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Severe Malnutrition in Young Children in Gaza Is Rising Fast, UNICEF Says

Children in the Gaza Strip are facing severe and rapidly worsening food deprivation, and an alarming number are suffering from the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, United Nations experts reported on Friday, in their most dire assessment yet of the unfolding crisis.

About one in every 20 children in shelters and health centers in northern Gaza is experiencing “severe wasting,” the most critical sign of malnutrition, defined as being dangerously thin for their height, according to UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children. The findings were based on screenings conducted by the agency and released on Friday.

Among children under 2 years old, acute malnutrition, meaning the body is deprived of essential nutrients, has become fairly common across Gaza, the screenings found, with the most severe prevalence in northern Gaza. In some areas, it found that rates of acute malnutrition had doubled since they were last recorded in January.

Even in Rafah, the densely populated area in southern Gaza with the greatest access to food, 10 percent of children under 2 are acutely malnourished, and 4 percent are severely wasting.

Before the war, UNICEF said, the rate of acute malnutrition among young children was less than 1 percent, and severe wasting was extremely rare.

Lucia Elmi, UNICEF’s special representative in the Palestinian territories, who returned from Gaza last week, said she was particularly alarmed by not only the number of children suffering from malnutrition, but how quickly their health was deteriorating. Young children cannot be adequately nourished from just water, flour and bread, she said.

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