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HomenewsGaza’s dire humanitarian crisis explained

Gaza’s dire humanitarian crisis explained

Ten days of relentless bombing of Gaza by Israel has caused widespread destruction to schools and hospitals and displaced nearly a million people, with aid agencies warning of a “catastrophic” shortage of medical supplies in the besieged enclave.

Israel has justified its brutal assault in the wake of Hamas attacks on October 7 that left at least 1,300 Israelis dead. It has since cut off water, power and fuel supplies, trapping 2.3 million people.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described the situation in Gaza as “abhorrent” as residents scramble for basic necessities such as food and water and struggle to get medical care in hospitals at the breaking point.

Israel has ordered 1.1 million people to move from the north to the south, causing panic and misery to tens of thousands in a territory that has been facing economic stagnation due to 16 years of Israeli blockades.

Here’s what we know about how recent Israeli attacks have made daily life in Gaza even more difficult:

Medical services

The United Kingdom-based Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) group says hospitals in Gaza are facing a “catastrophic” shortage of medical supplies, amid Israel’s “total blockade”.

“Emergency, trauma and surgical supplies are rapidly running out at hospitals and health partners’ warehouses, with the entry of humanitarian supplies still not possible,” MAP’s advocacy and campaigns manager in the West Bank, Aseel Baidoun, told Al Jazeera.

“There is a shortage of blood. Medicine is in short supply.”

Suffering from a Gaza-wide power outage, hospitals are running on external generators – a backup that is ticking towards its last few hours, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

This would place thousands of patients at immediate risk, many of them already straddling the line between life and death such as kidney and cancer patients.

Currently, 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza cannot access health facilities as several hospitals have been bombed, according to the UN Population Fund.

Newborns in incubators at hospital are also at immediate risk if power runs out, according to Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East.

“The hospital can’t operate much longer. The electricity is still off. The hospital’s fuel-based generators will be going off soon. The health system will collapse. The hospital will change to a graveyard,” Mohamed Kandil, director of the emergency department at Nasser Hospital, told Al Jazeera.

Kandil added that the hospital, situated in Khan Younis, was receiving a new patient every minute following an already continuous flow of patients over the past week.

There is a shortage of body bags for the dead, according to UNRWA, and people have resorted to storing dead bodies in ice-cream trucks.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry, appealed to people to head to the Shifa Hospital, the largest in the enclave, to donate blood.

“If the hospital stops working, the whole world will be responsible for the lives of hundreds and thousands of patients who rely on our services, especially from Shifa,” said al-Qidra.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said hospitals are “overflowing” as people seek safety.

Direct damage through air strikes has been inflicted on 24 health facilities, including six hospitals, while 15 health workers have been killed, another 27 injured, and 23 ambulances have been damaged, according to WHO.

Another 23 governmental and NGO facilities that are only partially operational are treating an average of 1,000 patients a day – well beyond their capacity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Gaza’s health sector was already crumbling under years of Israeli occupation. According to the World Bank, Gaza has 1.3 hospital beds for every 1,000 people – as compared to 3.3. per 1,000 in Israel.

Concerns about the spread of epidemics are rising due to the influx of people in hospitals while children there are already contracting smallpox, according to UNRWA.

Food

UNRWA said that nearly half a million people have been unable to access food rations due to the closure of their food distribution centres since the start of Israeli attacks on October 7.

“People spend their days looking for water and some basic foodstuffs, mostly bread and rice,” said Safwat Kahout, an Al Jazeera producer in Gaza.

An OCHA report on Sunday warned that with only one of five mills functioning, wheat flour reserves may be depleted in less than a week.

Air strikes have also directly damaged livestock, especially poultry, and agricultural land.

Israel’s closure of Karem Abu Salem crossing – the only commercial crossing, known to Israelis as Kerem Shalom – has also put a stop to the passage of animal feed for livestock.

Although farmers are unable to access their land, power outages mean that they cannot utilise the necessary irrigation, machinery, incubation devices, or refrigeration to salvage their crops.

Areas in the south such as Khan Younis are bearing the brunt of damage to agriculture.

With the current displacement and blockade, basic food supplies such as eggs, bread, and vegetables are severely short now, according to Euro-Med Monitor. Residents in Gaza have reported a scramble for available food, with children getting first priority.

In a post shared to their X, formerly Twitter, account on Sunday, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that flights carrying 20 metric tonnes of their high-energy biscuits had landed near the Rafah border in Egypt, and were waiting for humanitarian access so that they could deliver the emergency assistance to families.

Gaza had already been experiencing high levels of food insecurity under Israeli occupation. Sixty-three percent of the population of 1.84 million people have been food insecure, according to the WFP.

Drinking water

Drinking water has become even more scarce in Gaza.

Kahout reported that families were going around for hours, water bottles in hand, to search for water.

When people do find water, it is primarily through private vendors who are operating small desalination and water purification plants, mainly on solar energy.

Others have to resort to drinking brackish water from agricultural wells, according to OCHA. This is triggering concerns about waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Reports on Gaza’s drinking water in recent years have shown that it has mostly remained unsafe.

A June report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated that 96 percent of water is not fit for human consumption, leading most families to buy water from street vendors at a high cost – an added burden for a population where every second resident is poor, according to the World Bank.

Sanitation

On Sunday, OCHA said that Gaza’s last functioning seawater desalination plant had shut down due to fuel running out, while water and sanitation facilities, water wells, reservoirs, and pumping stations have suffered damage due to the incessant air strikes.

Spiking water pollution could dramatically increase kidney problems in the Gaza Strip, which already experiences a 13-14 percent increase in the number of kidney patients each year, according to Oxfam.

Israel reported that on Sunday that it was resuming water supplies to a line that is serving Khan Younis – one of the major areas to which people from north Gaza have moved. However, officials so far have stated that no water has reached south Gaza.

Residents in Gaza have also noted that this would not have actual impact since water pipes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and residents traditionally need to fill up tanks to access water. Without fuel, residents cannot operate trucks needed to transport water or pump it.

Gaza’s last remaining operational wastewater treatment plant also shut down on Sunday, causing additional amounts of untreated sewage to be discharged to the sea, according to OCHA.

Sewage and solid waste has also been accumulating in the streets and posing health and environmental risks since most of the 65 sewage pumping stations have stopped operating without fuel.

Housing

Living in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Gaza residents are further being pushed to a corner.

Israeli air strikes and evacuation orders have displaced an estimated 600,000 people to the southern half of Gaza, with almost 400,000 of them crowding into UNRWA emergency shelters. These numbers have likely increased significantly since the October 14 count, according to UNRWA, and are likely to create breeding grounds for disease.

“Large numbers of people are taking shelter here and in schools in total disorder, and no hygiene. It will cause epidemics across Gaza and beyond,” Muhammad Abu Salamiya at Shifa Hospital told Al Jazeera.

As of October 13, at least 7,000 housing units have been destroyed while another 4,887 are uninhabitable, according to the Gaza Ministry of Public Works.

Displaced people are staying in public facilities or with host families. Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed, who herself was staying in a 100m apartment with a host family, said that people in the south were hosting at least two to three other families in their homes, even families that they did not personally know.

But the housing crisis in Gaza does not end there. Many displaced people, including vulnerable individuals such as pregnant women, the injured, and children, are sleeping outdoors.

Source: Al Jazeera

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