Israeli air raids on Gaza severely damaged health, education, water and energy facilities and left a “terrified and traumatized” population, said Humanitarian aid agencies
After an internationally brokered ceasefire between Gaza and Israel came into effect this morning at 2 am local time, humanitarian aid agencies today took stock of the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip after 11 days of deadly hostilities which inflicted a huge human toll.
Speaking from Gaza City to a press briefing at the United Nations in Geneva, Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA Gaza Operations said that “I, of course, have to start expressing an enormous sense of relief that 11 days of carnage and war are over and to express the hope that it will stay that way, it feels like a fragile ceasefire.”
The truce brings an end to the most intense conflict between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war in Gaza. The latest outbreak of fighting has overwhelmed Gaza's fragile health system, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had seen just before the war started, the beginning of the end of the second wave and many of us are very worried that during these 10 days of war, we may have in fact seen the beginning of the third wave because of course precautionary measures and so on were not adhered to”, said UNRWA’s Gaza Operation Director.
Another threat to people’s lives in Gaza is now weapon contamination. According to Mr. Schmale, “going back to normal life means having to watch very carefully whether there are unexploded devices. We know of at least one school in our case, UNWRA, one of our 278 schools where we have discovered two deeply buried bombs and we have alerted the Israeli authorities to that.”
Since the fighting begun on 10 May, hundreds of buildings — including homes, hospitals and schools — have been damaged or destroyed, and plunged its residents further into hardship with clean water, electricity and fuel in short supply.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported attacks on health facilities in the West Bank and in the Gaza strip among which is the Rimal clinic housing the main Covid-19 testing laboratory.
One of the priorities for UNRWA’s Director of Gaza Operations is that “we need to do damage assessment of the physical infrastructure and then use that as a basis for formulating and ask and ways of supporting people get back homes and build back health infrastructure in particular.”
However, the most important point for Mr. Schmale is to recognize the level of trauma added on to the other traumas under which the population has already been suffering for years.
“We have to recognize this is a terrified, traumatized population”, Mr. Schmale said. “This is a level of trauma added on to others caused by previous wars, caused by two years of ‘Great Marches of Return’, caused by COVID and now this. So, we cannot just look at this as physical rebuilding, we need to rebuild lives or help rebuild lives.”
Dr Margaret Harris, spokesperson of the World Health Organization (WHO) updated on the number of fatalities and injured people. She said that “the fatalities are 230 in Gaza Strip, 27 in West Bank including East Jerusalem.”
According to WHO, 1760 people were injured in the Gaza Strip. 4739 people sustained wounds in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the beginning of the escalations.
UNICEF stressed that being a child in the Gaza Strip has always been extremely difficult, even before this escalation. For some children, this was the fourth conflict they lived through.
Lucia Elmi, UNICEF Special Representative to the State of Palestine, reported that “over the past 11 days, at least 65 Palestinian children have been reported killed and another 440 have been reported injured. In Israel, 2 children were reported killed and 60 children were reported injured.”
Beyond this horrifying human toll, the damage of basic civilian infrastructure providing critical life-saving services for children across the Gaza Strip has been enormous. According to UNICEF, at least 50 education facilities and 20 health facilities were damaged.
The UNICEF Representative said that “some children were under the rubble for many hours before they were able to be pulled out”, adding that “as the Secretary-General said in his address yesterday to the General Assembly: If there is a hell on Earth, it’s the lives of children in Gaza today.”
Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC Regional Director for Middle East reminded that Palestinians whose houses got destroyed in 2014 are today still living in temporary houses: “There are people in Gaza who over the last 10-15 years have been three times to those cycle of violence, destruction and trauma. And if don’t want to be here in a couple of years to speak about exactly the same thing, it’s really about time that we try to address this political crisis.”
He added that “the damage which was inflicted in less than two weeks will require unfortunately years if not decades.”
Mr. Carboni said that “around 700,000 Palestinians are affected by the damage on power and electricity infrastructures with water supply which decreased by 40 per cent.”
As groundwater wells and reservoirs, desalination and wastewater plants, water delivery networks and pumping stations have all sustained significant damage, the population is at risk of contracting water-borne diseases.
“The conflicts takes people in Gaza to a lower level, to a level lower and after each cycle what we manage to rebuild, you know, we never fully recover, you know, and it causes huge frustration and more importantly a crisis of hope”, said ICRC’s Fabrizio Carboni.