MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
Health system at ‘breaking point’ and ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ loading in besieged Gaza Strip, WHO warns
The World Health Organization has warned that time is running out to prevent a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza as Israel’s ongoing blockade on the region prevents access to life-saving supplies. A directive from the Israel Defense Forces ordering the evacuation of Gaza City on Friday could have further ‘devastating’ consequences.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the immediate establishment of a humanitarian corridor to the Gaza Strip, to ensure unimpeded access to health and humanitarian supplies in the region, as well as the evacuation of injured patients.
The WHO warned that the health system in Gaza was at “breaking point”, and that time was running out to “prevent a humanitarian catastrophe” if life-saving supplies were not allowed through Israel’s total blockade of the region.
“Without the immediate entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza – especially health services, medical supplies, food, clean water, fuel and non-food items – humanitarian and health partners will be unable to respond to urgent needs of people who desperately need it. Each lost hour puts more lives at risk,” the WHO said.
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The international health agency further called for an end to hostilities in the region, as well as the protection of healthcare workers and civilians against attacks.
“WHO is ready to immediately dispatch trauma and essential health supplies through its logistics hub in Dubai and work with partners to ensure that they can reach the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing. Urgent access through the crossing is essential so that WHO and other humanitarian agencies can act quickly to help save lives,” it said.
The Gaza Strip blockade
Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza in the aftermath of a coordinated attack by Islamist militant group Hamas, which breached Israeli defences on Saturday, 7 October. It has been widely reported that more than 1,200 Israelis were killed in the attack, which coincided with the Jewish Sabbath and a religious holiday, while others were taken hostage by Hamas.
The blockade of Gaza, announced on Monday, 9 October, includes a ban on food and water, as well as cutting electricity. The region is home to about 2.3 million people, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
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The Gaza Strip has been hit by a barrage of Israeli air attacks in the days since the Hamas incursion. According to an Al Jazeera report on Friday, 1,537 Palestenians have been killed and 6,612 wounded in these attacks. A further 31 have been killed and 600 wounded in the occupied West Bank.
A directive from Israel’s army on Friday ordered residents of Gaza City to evacuate southwards, warning that the Israel Defense Forces would continue to “operate significantly” in the area in the coming days. According to media reports, a similar warning issued to the United Nations (UN) stated that the evacuation – which would affect about 1.1 million people in northern Gaza – should take place within 24 hours.
IDF announcement sent to civilians of Gaza City:
The IDF calls for the evacuation of all civilians of Gaza City from their homes southwards for their own safety and protection and move to the area south of the Wadi Gaza, as shown on the map.
The Hamas terrorist organization…
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 13, 2023
UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric was quoted in the Financial Times as saying that the “United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences”, and that the directive could “transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation”. The WHO reportedly said that evacuating vulnerable hospital patients from northern Gaza was “a death sentence”.
On Thursday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the number of internally displaced people in Gaza had exceeded 423,000, after increasing by 25% in the previous 24 hours.
“Palestinian armed groups in Gaza continued their indiscriminate rocket firing towards Israeli population centres, albeit with lesser intensity than in previous days… According to Israeli official sources, at least 1,300 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel since 7 October and at least 3,391 have been injured, the vast majority during the initial attack carried out by Palestinian armed groups,” OCHA said.
“Since yesterday at 14:00 Gaza has been undergoing a full electricity blackout, which has brought essential health, water and sanitation services to the brink of collapse, and exacerbated food insecurity. This followed Israel’s halt of its electricity and fuel supply to Gaza on 8 October, which in turn triggered the shutdown of Gaza’s sole power plant yesterday, after it depleted its fuel reserves.”
Attacks on healthcare
The WHO reported that emergency medical teams’ access to spaces within Gaza had been “severely hampered” by infrastructure damage. It has documented 34 attacks on healthcare workers in Gaza since 7 October, resulting in 11 deaths and 16 injuries. In terms of health infrastructure, 19 health facilities and 20 ambulances have been damaged.
“Hospitals have only a few hours of electricity each day as they are forced to ration depleting fuel reserves and rely on generators to sustain the most critical functions. Even these functions will have to cease in a few days, when fuel stocks are due to run out. The impact would be devastating for the most vulnerable patients, including the injured who need life-saving surgery, patients in intensive care units, and newborns depending on care in incubators,” it said.
“As injuries and fatalities continue to rise due to the ongoing air strikes on the Gaza Strip, acute shortages of medical supplies are compounding the crisis, limiting the response capacity of already overstretched hospitals to treat the sick and injured.”
The delivery of essential health services, such as obstetric care, management of noncommunicable diseases and treatment of common infections, has been seriously disrupted as all facilities have been forced to prioritise emergency care, it continued. DM