Blog Post

Famine in Gaza: How Research Can Aid Recovery and Prevent Future Food Crises

As Gaza continues to experience unprecedented food crisis, a new commentary published in Nature takes a look at how research can forecast the long-term impacts and help policymakers develop more effective humanitarian support networks and systems to ensure post-conflict resilience.

More than 40 percent of the region’s cropland has been damaged since the start of the war in October, as has 80-90 percent of agricultural assets like greenhouses and irritation systems. More than 50 percent of meat and dairy livestock have been killed. The majority of the population (an estimated 80 percent) have been forcibly displaced, with the same share of the working population having lost their livelihoods and access to income-generating activities. This combination of livelihood loss and destruction of the agricultural system mean that essentially the entire population now depends on food aid, much of which has been hampered by delayed or impeded border crossings, impassable roads, destruction of aid distribution points, and other security risks.  

The result has been a food crisis unprecedented in terms of both the share of the population experiencing acute food insecurity and famine and the speed with which it has grown. As of early March 2024, approximately 685,000 people in Gaza, or half of the population, were facing catastrophic food insecurity or famine-like conditions – a significant deterioration since the first IPC assessment conducted in December 2023.

The most immediate need, the article emphasizes, is an immediate and lasting ceasefire and the delivery of adequate supplies of food, water, fuel, medicines, and sanitation and hygiene supplies, followed by restoration of basic services and infrastructure to rebuild market-based access to food and livelihoods.

Once these urgent humanitarian needs have been met, researchers and policymakers can turn their attention to the lessons that can be gleaned about preventing famine and acute food insecurity in future conflict scenarios.

Such research includes improving real-time monitoring of food crisis risks like population displacement and destruction of infrastructure, as well as rapid assessment methods to measure gaps in both caloric and micronutrient deficiencies. Better assessment of the linkages between nutrition and acute food insecurity is also needed, including an in-depth look at the structural and event-specific causes of life-threatening malnutrition, particularly among children.

Improving the design of effective social safety nets, such as cash transfer programs, should also be a focus of future research, as should appropriate governance of multi-sectoral efforts to restore access to food, water, health and nutrition services, sanitation services, markets, energy supplies, agricultural land, and infrastructure.

Given the widespread nature of displacement and destruction of homes in Gaza, much of the region’s population will likely remain displaced even after the conflict ends. This scenario will require new approaches to helping rebuild livelihoods.

Finally, the lessons from Gaza will be critical in informing research into the two-way causality between conflicts and food crises. A better understanding of how conflict, acute food insecurity, and malnutrition drive and are driven by civil unrest and population displacement will help policymakers better address challenges to supplying humanitarian aid and more effectively rebuild livelihoods and increase resilience.

Finally, the report emphasizes that all of these areas of research need to be better linked to international advocacy and political will in order to prevent future conflicts and their subsequent food crises.


Sara Gustafson is a freelance communication consultant.