Aid charities sound alarm over apocalyptic humanitarian crisis in Gaza

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9th December 2023 – (Gaza) Aid charities have issued urgent warnings about the dire situation in Gaza, describing it as “apocalyptic” after more than two months of intense conflict between Israel and Hamas. They have raised concerns about the imminent threat of starvation and disease outbreak in the region.

During a video conference with journalists, international organizations painted a grim picture of the unfolding horrors in the Gaza Strip. Save the Children referred to the situation as a “catastrophe” with potentially irreversible consequences for the Palestinian people. Oxfam’s Bushra Khalidi emphasised that the so-called safe zones established by Israel within Gaza were nothing more than a mirage.

The Israeli military launched a massive offensive against Gaza in response to Hamas militants crossing the border into southern Israel on 7th October. Israeli officials claim that approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, and around 240 hostages were taken. However, the health ministry in Gaza, which is under Hamas control, reports a death toll of 17,490 people. The conflict has displaced an estimated 1.9 million out of Gaza’s 2.4 million population, leaving vast areas in ruins.

According to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, only 14 out of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are currently operational, severely limiting access to healthcare. Aid is also struggling to reach those in need, exacerbating the dire situation. Alexandra Saieh from Save the Children revealed horrifying accounts of survivors picking maggots from wounds and children undergoing amputations without anaesthesia. The scarcity of resources has led to long queues for a single toilet and people scouring the streets in search of food.

After a temporary pause in hostilities, during which Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinians held in Israeli jails, Israel resumed its bombing and ground offensive, vowing to eliminate Hamas. The Israeli army published a map intended to help Gazans evacuate from specific areas for their safety if required. However, even those who sought refuge in the south have reported being bombed.

Shaina Low from the Norwegian Refugee Council emphasized that there are no safe spaces in Gaza, and Israeli directives coercing Palestinians into overcrowded areas in the south without guarantees of safety or return blatantly violate international humanitarian law.

Medical charities have also highlighted the critical situation in Gaza’s hospitals. Sandrine Simon from Médecins du Monde recounted how a colleague was injured when a tank attacked a school where he had sought refuge. The wounded colleague faced significant challenges in reaching a hospital, where exhausted nurses were struggling to care for hundreds of patients lying on the floor. Isabelle Defourny, President of Doctors Without Borders, echoed these concerns, stating that their hospital, Al-Aqsa, has been receiving an average of 150 to 200 war-wounded patients daily since the beginning of December. On some days, the hospital has received more dead bodies than wounded patients, leading to overflowing morgues and critically low levels of fuel and medical supplies.

The situation is equally dire at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, where 20 per cent of arriving patients are already dead, with 70 per cent of the deceased being women and children. Defourny described the situation as indiscriminate carnage and accused Israel of disregarding the protection of Gaza’s medical facilities.

UN agencies have repeatedly warned about the deteriorating health and food conditions in Gaza, as well as the breakdown of public order if a ceasefire is not achieved. The World Food Programme has raised concerns about the high risk of famine, while the World Health Organization has stated that civilisation is collapsing in Gaza. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted the increased likelihood of people dying from diseases due to overcrowding, lack of food, water, basic hygiene, and limited access to medication. The situation has eroded the dignity of the people, as they struggle to maintain cleanliness for themselves and their children.

During a UN Security Council meeting, the United States, Israel’s top ally, vetoed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The decision has further escalated concerns about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the region. Urgent aid and a ceasefire are desperately needed to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza.