Narratives Under Siege
(4): Ard El Insan Child Nutrition Centre
Ard El Insan
Child Nutrition Centre in Gaza city treated almost 8,500
malnourished youngsters last year.
"We receive 20-25 new referrals every day, and we
see approximately three hundred and fifty children a week here at
the centre. Last year we treated more than eight thousand four
hundred children here in Gaza city, plus another eight thousand
children at our centre in Khan Yunis. All of them were under 5 years
old, and all of them were malnourished."
Najah Zohod is the Nutritional Director of the
Ard El Insan Child Nutrition Centre in Gaza city. The centre works
exclusively with malnourished under-fives. Children are regularly
referred to Ard El Insan from the Gaza-based UN Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA) which supports some of the poorest communities in the
Gaza Strip. But many mothers self-refer, by simply turning up at the
centre with their babies and young children. This morning Ard El
Insan is crowded with women and children queuing for assessments and
treatment. Most of the children are quiet, and some look thin and
"Our target group is children suffering second
and third degree malnutrition" says Najah Zohod. "We weigh every
child who comes here, and take blood and urine samples.
Approximately half the children are mildly malnourished. But 32% are
suffering second degree malnutrition - and the remaining 16% are
third degree malnourished." All those assessed as suffering second
or third degree malnutrition are referred to the Nutrition Unit. "We
give the children nutritious meals here at the centre, and also
train mothers to feed their children a healthy balanced diet" says
Najah. "We usually serve the children fresh meat, fruit and
vegetables. But this week we cannot serve the children any fruit at
all, because of the closure."
Israel's ongoing siege and closure of the Gaza
Strip is chronically affecting every aspect of life in Gaza,
including access to fresh food and water. Fresh meat has been scarce
for weeks, and now there are also shortages of fresh fruit.
Meanwhile chronic power cuts across the Strip have left fifty
percent of Gaza households (around 750,000 people) desperately short
of fresh drinking water, because there isn't enough fuel to power
their electric water pumps more than 4-6 hours per day. Despite the
fact collective punishment is illegal under international human
rights and humanitarian law, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF)
continue to collectively punish 1.5 million Gazan civilians. Many of
the women who come to Ard El Insan for help feeding their
malnourished children are now dependent on food aid assistance from
either UNWRA or the World Food Programme (WFP). But WFP is currently
unable to provide 84,000 of its poorest beneficiaries in Gaza their
full aid rations, also because of the continued closure. Some of the
poorest families in the Gaza Strip are struggling to obtain adequate
food for their children.
In the Ard El Insan dining area, women are now
feeding their children fresh meat and vegetable soup, which the
centre provides free of charge. One of the mothers, 23 year old
Fatma Mishrif, lives in Nuseirat refuge camp in the central Gaza
Strip. "When I first brought my daughter here, she was 6 months old
and very underweight, and I didn't know how to make her more
healthy" she says. "But the centre has really helped me to help her,
and now my daughter is much better. This place is very important for
all our children." The centre also offers mothers nutritionally-rich
rations of dry food to feed their children at home, donated by UNRWA.
Ard El Insan uses a holistic approach, offering
mothers ongoing support in child nutrition, breast feeding, and
other parenting skills. But the centre Medical Director, Adnan Al-Wahaidi,
is adamant the Israeli siege is exacerbating child malnutrition in
the Gaza Strip. "The consequences of this siege and closure have
been very severe for babies and young children" he says. "We have
documented noticeable increases in recent rates of child
malnutrition, especially chronic malnutrition. For example, there
have been serious increases in child stunting, which is a proxy for
chronic malnutrition, because it indicates prolonged exposure to
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of
Statistics 10.7% of Gazan children aged under five are now suffering
stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition. Dr Al-Wahaidi describes
the figure as "Shocking," pointing out that neighbouring Arab
countries have child stunting rates of less than 6%.
"One of the major problems in the Gaza Strip" he
says, "is that we do not have sufficient natural food resources. We
cannot grow the variety of fruit and vegetables that we need in
order to provide ourselves, and our children, a well balanced diet.
We are dependent on food imports, but the food table in the Gaza
Strip is now severely deficient because of the siege and closure."
Dr Al-Wahaidi acknowledges that Gaza has become donor dependent. "We
have tens of thousands of families who now have no options or
alternatives to humanitarian assistance" he says. "But if this siege
is maintained, then current child malnutrition interventions and
preventions will not be sufficient. Child morbidity and mortality
will both increase. We will not be able to cope."