Gaza's Humanitarian Crisis Deepens
Israel's lawless siege caused Gazans unspeakable misery. It shows no signs of ending. It got worse. Around 1.8 million people are affected.
Mother nature wasn't kind. Once in a century storm conditions exacerbated human misery. Fierce winds and torrential rain battered the Strip. They began last Wednesday. They continued into the weekend.
On Friday, things got worse. Gaza's Disaster Response Committee said Israel opened nearby dams. Doing so flooded numerous residential areas. Emergency conditions were exacerbated.
Flooding reached dangerous levels in many areas. Thousands fled homes too risky to remain in. Lack of power and electricity as well as plunging temperatures complicated things.
Displaced Gazans took shelter in schools and other public buildings. Health Minister Mufid al-Mukhalalati declared a state of "extreme emergency."
Ambulances and other emergency vehicles and crews were put on high alert. Local Government Minister Muhammad Farra told mayors to recall water and sanitation workers on leave until crisis conditions end.
Alternating municipal crews worked round-the-clock. UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness said UN staff keep working all night.
One UNWRA member reported three meters of water surrounding his house. During the height of the crisis, emergency evacuations continued round-the-clock.
Jebaliya refugee camp and surrounding areas resemble a massive lake. Homes are engulfed. Thousands are stranded.
"After so many years of the Israeli blockade, the public health system in Gaza was already acutely and chronically damaged, so the man-made problems inflicted on Gaza are compounded by the extreme weather conditions," explained Gunness.
He urged Israel to lift its blockade immediately, adding:
"Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster."
"But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this."
High water levels forced Erez Crossing's closure. Storm waters completely blocked it. Vehicles with sick patients couldn't get through. They got stuck.
Israel's siege prevents normal daily life. Current conditions make it impossible. Ezz al Zanoon lives in central Gaza.
"A friend of mine went out to get milk for his four kids and had to go by boat," he said.
"In many areas, water flooded houses. Entire first floors are flooded" in some.
"Civil forces are trying to help." They're doing their best. "(T)here's no solution. I don't know how people are living."
For days, electricity was available only for one or two hours. People wait all night for it to come on.
Water availability depends on it. Pumping it needs power. Gaza's sole power plant virtually shut down for weeks. It did so before storm conditions erupted. It did it for lack of fuel.
It supplies 30% of Strip needs. It hasn't operated normally since November 1. Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt bear full responsibility.
On Sunday, Gazan officials said one generator began operating. Another should follow, they said.
They expect around 60 megawatts of electricity to be generated. Doing so will let the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) provide more power daily.
PA official Raed Fatuh is in charge of transferring goods to Gaza. He said around 450,000 liters of fuel were supplied on Sunday.
Much more is needed at affordable prices daily. Whether it comes remains to be seen.
On Monday, Gaza medical services director Atef al-Kahlout warned of "a complete breakdown in the health sector."
He believes exposure to sewage water and lack of medical supplies risks an outbreak of serious illnesses.
He called on nations worldwide to provide help. Gaza needs food, fuel, warm clothing, medical supplies and much more.
Storm winds and floods caused a pedestrian bridge to collapse. It connected Gaza to Israel. It did so at Erez Crossing.
Flooding hit Gazan agriculture hard. Days of severe weather caused devastating losses. Crops and livestock were affected.
About half the strawberry crop was heavily damaged. Full agricultural loss estimates will follow once better assessments can be made.
Coping with emergency conditions matters most. Imagine trying for 1.8 million besieged people. Basim Qahwaji's home was flooded like others.
"My seven children and their mother are now sleeping in this classroom, without heating, adequate blankets, mattresses or pillows," he said.
"We have been given only three mattresses and three blankets and some food and water."
His wife, Warda Abu Taima, called conditions "desperate. (W)e do not know what to do and how to manage, given that my husband has some problems with his back and is unable to work."
Conditions remain dire throughout large parts of Gaza. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported serious deterioration in available medical supplies and services.
Generators powering hospitals experienced breakdowns. In November. one or two European Gaza Hospital ones burned out.
Hamas spokesperson Isra Almodallal called conditions disastrous. "With the lack of fuel and electricity, the government is trying hard to help with limited resources," she said.
"Unless the borders are reopened and the needed equipment is allowed in, it will be difficult for us to handle this crisis."
Ordinary Gazans explain things best. On Friday, Mohammed Omer painted a nightmarish scenario. It makes grim reading, saying:
"It is cold, there is no power, and I am charging my computer using a car battery in order to get this message out."
"It is so cold in Gaza that everyone has cold feet and a cold nose. A new storm is hitting this besieged enclave."
"There is no electricity, and shortages of water, fuel, and vital services mean people just sit and wait for the unknown."
"The sewage system cannot function and Gaza municipalities announced a state of emergency."
"Schools and most shops are shut, there is no traffic and few people are walking in the street."
"We had no running water for the past two days - when there is no fuel, water is not pumped regularly into houses. The tank on our rooftop is empty. So we can't even flush our toilet."
"Fuel cannot enter Gaza through the supply tunnels recently shut down by Egypt's new government."
"As a result, Gaza's water-treatment plant is at standstill, with raw sewage waist-deep in some streets and flooding into Gazan homes, bringing with it rats and disease."
"Tonight, the smell of rotten sewage floods into my nose. I inhale and exhale the stink of rotten garbage. The night air is filled with this suffocating smell."
"It makes me wonder if US Secretary of State John Kerry is aware of Gaza's situation."
"Would he find it acceptable if Israeli citizens lived in the same conditions as Gazans? Or don't we in Gaza count as humans?"
Gazan Fidaa Abuassi added:
Unlike neighboring Sderot, Israel, "Gaza's refugees have nowhere to flee when heavy rains flood their 25-mile occupied territory, blockaded by land, air, and sea."
"Gaza is drowning today. You will see people kayaking and canoeing - not the type of fun activities the world knows."
"Houses are flooded by water. People are freezing there. No power. No water. No heat. No fuel. This is a catastrophe. A CATASTROPHE."
"I need to do something to help. I felt so helpless that I wanted to call 911, the Red Cross or Amnesty International. Anyone!"
"I want to tell the world that Gaza is living an unspeakable disaster and in a bad need for your help. I cannot be silent. You cannot be silent."
Medical aid for Palestinians (MAP) is a UK charity. It works for their "health and dignity." On December 15, it headlined "Gaza Underwater."
Fikr Shalltoot is MAP's Gaza program director. "We've never seen anything like" what's ongoing, he said. "There is real misery, and there simply isn't the infrastructure to deal with the floods."
City streets look "life a port." Water borne diseases are a major concern.
"The international community must bring effective pressure to ensure an immediate end to the blockade. It is the most vulnerable who are paying the price."
On Monday, the Palestine News Network headlined "Gaza Suffers after Storm."
Estimated losses are around $64 million. Perhaps much higher once better assessments are made. It's much more than beleaguered Gazans can bear. About 40,000 people were displaced.
Storm damage affected thousands of homes, roads, other infrastructure, water availability, electricity, sanitation, healthcare, agriculture, private businesses, and overall daily life.
Before today's crisis, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called humanitarian conditions in Gaza dire.
Medical supplies and equipment are in short supply. Many vital medications aren't available.
Hundreds of patients needing specialized treatment unavailable in Gaza can't cross into Egypt to get it. Junta authority prevents or limits it.
Lack of fuel caused a drop in fishing. Up to 80% of Gazan fishermen suffer temporary unemployment.
Around 90% of infrastructure projects are on indefinite hold. About 20,000 Gazan construction workers are out of work.
Over 12,000 Gazans can't rebuild homes destroyed by Israeli land and air attacks. From July through October, only three humanitarian convoys entered Gaza through Rafah crossing. Egypt blocked more from getting through.
Clean water availability is dangerously low. Since Egypt's military ousted Mohamed Morsi last July, Gaza's economy suffered around $500 million in losses through October. Tens of thousands of dollars more are lost daily.
An estimated 57% of Gazan families suffer from nutritional insecurity. Poverty and unemployment are dangerously high.
Nightmarish conditions affect Gaza. Storm conditions deepened its humanitarian crisis. Months or longer may be needed to resolve it.
Israel's lawless siege continues. Ending it matters more than ever now. World leaders able to make a difference continue turning a blind.
Palestinian suffering persists. Survival is a day to day struggle. Liberation remains a distant dream. Human suffering is a daily reality.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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