MADRE Articles

Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Posted on: Saturday, January 10, 2009

Keywords: Palestine, Israel, Peace Building, Middle East, Emergency Relief, Gaza

An update from our sister organization in Gaza, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS):

Saturday morning, the 27th of December, Israel started a massive offensive in the Gaza Strip, leaving behind death, destruction and intense suffering. Israeli military planes carried out heavy air strikes against the most densely populated area on the planet, already suffering from siege for more than a year and a half.

As the air strikes where followed by a ground operation, starting the third of January 2009, the number of casualties has risen. In total, at least 534 have been reportedly killed and 2470 wounded most of them civilians, consisting of men, women and children. This number is expected to rise further throughout the coming days of Israel's continuous attacks.

The current humanitarian situation is deplorable. Gaza has become the scene of death, loss and pain. Moreover, most of Gaza's infrastructure is destroyed. The morgues in the city can no longer accommodate the dead and the Gaza health system is in a state of collapse and cannot provide an adequate response to the constant and growing needs.

The invasion not only left hospitals, schools and mosques in ruins, also many houses have turned into rubble. Most of those who survived the attacks are now in desperate need of shelter for themselves and their families. Heavy rain and winter cold has plagued those ones who lost their houses, and who cannot warm themselves due to a lack of warm water, electricity, etc. Therefore, there is an immediate need to provide shelter, food and blankets to the Gazan are who are still under attack. Women and children are hit in larger numbers. According to recent estimates, more than 30 of the casualties are women and children. On7thof January, Israeli military assaults on a school building killed more than 50 people from those whom are displaced.

Repeated attacks and mounting casualty amongst vulnerable groups like children has also resulted in shock, fear and anxiety amongst the survivors. The war will leave lasting impacts and if unattended, it can lead to irreversible damage and hamper relief and recovery efforts.

Even before this military assault started, Gaza has high prevalence of mental health and psychosocial problems. A study by Gaza Community Mental Health programme (in 2003) reported 32.7% children requiring psychological intervention, 49.2% children having mild Post Trauma Stress Disorder symptoms.

This war has further amplified their suffering.

Israel declared a siege on the Gaza Strip following the results of legislative elections in January 2006.  When internal violence erupted in the Strip in June 2007, resulting in Hamas' takeover of Gaza, Israel reacted by stepping up its collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and intensifying its siege.

The Karni crossing, the only border crossing into the Gaza Strip equipped to handle large quantities of goods has been entirely closed since 13 June 2007. It used to deal with about 300 trucks every day but now there are none. Instead, the entire flow has been diverted to the ill equipped Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings. This means that only the priority import goods, and humanitarian aid, can enter. These goods are insufficient. People lack food, electricity, medical supplies, tools, fuel, etc. As a result, the Gazan economy has been all but wiped out and unemployment is sky high.

Moreover, the siege brought a heavy blow to the Gazan health sector. Prolonged border closures and the fuel and electricity cuts are having a direct and very negative effect on primary, emergency and specialised healthcare services. Stocks of medicines are depleted or exhausted, fragile (laboratory) equipment needs repairs and spare parts, and electricity cuts prevent the reliable operation of life-saving equipment (incubators, dialysis machines, etc). Many specialised and life-saving medical treatments are unavailable in the Strip. The standard of healthcare in the Gaza Strip is deteriorating rapidly, but people are prevented from seeking treatment elsewhere. Between 15 June 2007 to 16 January 2008, 76 patients – primarily chronic cases, many of them suffering from cancer - who were in need of life-saving treatment unavailable in the Strip have died because they were denied exit permits.

In the meantime, violence has been a constant and increasing part of the siege. In 2007 alone, Israel carried out 1,452 military attacks in the Strip, killing 316 and injuring 744 people. These attacks have been stepped up since the Annapolis peace meeting on 27 November 2007.  Between 28 November 2007 and 18 December 2008, 481 Gazans have been killed, of which 73 children. Another 1258 have been injured, including 158 children.

Since the ceasefire came to an end the 19th of December 2008, Israel has been planning massive attacks that have raised the number of death and injured with huge numbers over the last week. The people of Gaza need help and they need in urgently, at a time where they are facing massive death and misery and whilst they fear for their own life's and those of their loved one's in the face of renewed attacks.

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Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
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