5 Ways Israel Created a Real Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza
The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, now entering its fourth week, has unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave. The crisis could worsen if Israel’s attacks don’t cease.
Even before Israel’s air and land campaign began in early July, Gaza was reeling from two wars in the past five years and a crippling blockade that has largely prevented building materials from entering and has caused mass unemployment. In August 2012, nine months after an intensive Israeli campaign of airstrikes, the United Nations Relief Works and Agency, the organization specifically created to serve Palestinian refugees, released a report with a stunning conclusion: if no action is taken to address the dire needs of people in Gaza, it will become “unlivable” by 2020.
The UNRWA report shows how grim life in Gaza was even before this latest punishing attack. Power cuts are common. Only 10% of aquifer water is drinkable—and in 2016, the aquifer water may become “unusable.” Population density is high and growing. The economy has been decimated by Israeli restrictions on fishing, agriculture and building. “The daily lives of Gazans in 2020 will be worse than they are now,” the report states. “There will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline, and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory for most.”
Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza is exacerbating these already dire problems. “We are now looking at a health and humanitarian disaster,” James Rawley, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordination in the occupied Palestinian territories, said August 2.
Here are five ways Israel’s war has fueled this disaster—a disaster that can only be solved by a political solution that lifts the blockade of the strip and lets Gaza develop.
1. Disease outbreaks. Some 485,000 people have been displaced from their homes, but since the borders with Egypt and Israel are closed except for unique cases, they have nowhere to go. The crowded conditions in places like UN schools are contributing to a dangerous situation where disease is spreading.
Israeli bombardments have damaged Gaza’s sewage infrastructure, which increases the likelihood of disease outbreak. Already, there are 30 cases of meningitis, in addition to “skin diseases among children and cases of gastroenteritis,” according to Oxfam. The United Nations has warned of “serious risks of outbreak of water-borne and communicable diseases.” And the head of UNRWA told the UN Security Council that “infection is beginning with skin rashes, scabies and others.”
2. Depleted medical supplies. Hospitals have been hit by continued Israeli aerial and ground bombardment, forcing patients and doctors to evacuate. Those closings have a severe impact in a territory where the number of injured people is approaching 10,000. Three hospitals are now closed. The ones that are still operating are being overwhelmed.
“Critical supplies of medicines and disposables are almost depleted and damage and destruction of power supplies has left hospitals dependent on unreliable back-up generators,” the UNRWA report says.
3. Water infrastructure damaged. The largely indiscriminate Israeli attacks have damaged Gaza’s already weak water infrastructure. One week into the operation, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that repeatedly bombing water infrastructure is “devastating” the strip.
“Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are now without water. Within days, the entire population of the Strip may be desperately short of water,” ICRC head in Israel/Palestine Jacques de Maio said.
In late July, the organization Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene (EWASH) said that Israel’s bombardment had hit the main water supply in the strip. An official with Gaza’s Ministry of Public Works said that Israeli bombs had destroyed 70 percent of water wells in the territory.
4. Power cuts. The repeated Israeli attacks on Gaza have also hit the coastal enclave’s electricity infrastructure, sparking power cuts across the territory. Most residents only had three hours of power a day over the past three weeks.
The power cuts intensified on July 29, when Israeli shells hit Gaza’s only power plant. Repairing the plant could take months, and its impact is being felt on hospitals, households and entities that provide public services.
5. Increase in homelessness. Some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees will be able to return to their homes when the war is over. But many will not.
Israel has completely destroyed an estimated 10,000 homes, and partially damaged another 30,000 homes, according to estimates from Gaza officials. The estimated cost of rebuilding is $5 billion, and could grow if the assault continues.
The destruction of homes has been particularly pronounced in neighborhoods near the Gaza border, like Shujaiyya, the site of a fierce battle. Indiscriminate shelling by Israeli forces destroyed much of the neighborhood.