(NEW YORK) — Parts of Gaza are currently experiencing a “full-blown famine” and it could spread even further amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, a top United Nations official warned.

World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Cindy McCain said during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that northern Gaza is in a dire situation.

“Whenever you have conflicts like this, and emotions rage high, and things happen in a war, famine happens,” McCain said. “And so, what I can explain to you is there is famine — full-blown famine — in the north, and it’s moving its way south.”

McCain clarified there has been no formal declaration by the U.N. or any other agency that there is a famine but that it was an appropriate term for conditions in the north. She also said the WFP is calling for a cease-fire to be able to deliver more aid.

“It’s horror,” she said. “It’s so hard to look at and it’s so hard to hear, also. So, I’m so hoping that we can get a cease-fire and begin to feed these people, especially in the north, in a much faster fashion, but also including water, sanitation, medicine. It’s all part of the famine issue.”

Meanwhile, Phillipe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), accused Israel of denying humanitarian access to the strip and increase in attacks when humanitarian workers and convoys are allowed access.

“Only in the past two weeks, we have recorded 10 incidents involving shooting at convoys, arrests of UN staff including bullying, stripping them naked, threats with arms & long delays at checkpoints forcing convoys to move during the dark or abort,” he wrote in a post on X on Sunday. “These incidents happen repeatedly at the time we are engaged in a race against the clock to avert famine in #Gaza. It also creates fear among courageous & committed humanitarian teams.”

Several aid organizations have warned that Gaza is experiencing “catastrophic” levels of hunger. At the beginning of the war, Israel implemented a blockade, severely limiting the amount of food and other supplies into Gaza. However, as border crossings opened, officials have said the aid is not enough to reach the level of need.

Some aid organizations have accused Israel of not providing enough authorization to deliver sufficient aid and, even when it does give authorization, heavy fighting makes it difficult to deliver that aid. Israel denies the accusations and said the U.N., its partners and other aid agencies have created logistical challenges, resulting in a bottleneck. Additionally, the Israeli government said Hamas often steals aid meant for civilians. The U.N. and Hamas dispute the respective claims.

Over the last several weeks, more aid has entered Gaza, mostly though the south. On April 9, a total of 468 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza, marking the highest number to enter Gaza in one day since the war began, according to COGAT. Additionally, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) opened the Erez Crossing for the first time since the beginning of the war to allow aid to reach the north.

A report from the U.N.-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative warned in March that famine was “imminent” in northern Gaza and would likely occur by the end of May. The report also warned that, in the most likely scenario, an estimated 1.11 million people — half of the population in Gaza — could be experiencing famine levels of hunger by mid-July.

A few weeks later, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power, a top humanitarian official, testified on Capitol Hill, saying it is “credible” to believe famine is currently underway in parts of Gaza based on the IPC initiative analysis.

It comes amid an announcement from Hamas that it has accepted an Egyptian-Qatari proposal regarding a ceasefire agreement. A senior Israeli official with knowledge of negotiations said Israel has received the Hamas response and it will be studied. The official added that it will take some time before there is response from Israel.

Talks between Israel and Hamas to reach a cease-fire stalled over the weekend. Hamas has insisted that any ceasefire hostage deal must include a commitment from Israel, in writing, for a comprehensive cease-fire, and an end to the war. Israel has refused to agree to end the war.

Amid the negotiations, at least four Israeli soldiers were killed and 10 others were injured in a rocket attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing on Sunday. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, and Israel says Hamas launched the rockets from Rafah.

The IDF dropped leaflets on Monday and sent text messages in Arabic calling for about 100,000 people to evacuate the eastern part of Rafah and to head north to the Al Muwasi humanitarian corridor ahead of a likely coming invasion.

Since Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas launched a surprise terrorist attack in Israel, more than 34,790 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 78,000 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. In Israel, more than 1,700 have been killed — including at least 600 soldiers and police officers — and more than 8,700 injured.

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