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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

Health system at ‘breaking point’ and ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ loading in besieged Gaza Strip, WHO warns

Health system at ‘breaking point’ and ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ loading in besieged Gaza Strip, WHO warns
A Palestine Red Crescent Society member carries a wounded child at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on 9 October 2023. The Israeli army announced on the same day it had carried out more than 500 strikes on targets across the Gaza Strip overnight. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Haitham Imad)

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.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa calls for opening of Gaza humanitarian corridor, end to rampant Israel-Hamas violence

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.

Gaza Strip

Residents of Gaza begin to evacuate following an Israeli warning of increased military operations in the Gaza Strip on 13 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Haitham Imad)

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.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gaza Strip — history of densely populated enclave is critical to understanding current conflict

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.

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.”

Gaza

Israeli border police search Palestinian women at the Damascus gate in the old city in Jerusalem on 13 October 2023. Israel limited entry to Al Aqsa Mosque complex as Hamas called for a day of rage in reaction to the war between Israel and Hamas. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Abir Sultan)

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

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Esskay Esskay says:

    Israel has offered an easing of restrictions upon return of the hostages. Not unreasonable?

  • Jim F. says:

    What has WHO done about reattaching the heads of decapitated babies before declaring it is attempting to “prevent” a humanitarian catastrophe?

  • Jim F. says:

    “Innocent” Palestinians elected Hamas, just like innocent Russians elected Putin or even at a stretch South Africans elected ANC. The innocents always suffer the consequences of the majority.

  • Terril Scott says:

    Sorry about the humanitarian mess for which Hamas is solely responsible. “innocent gazans” should consider this when they next have an opportunity to vote – if ever.

    • Sarah Lund says:

      How terribly wrong you are, Israel’s 75 year long occupation of Palestine, their incessant contravention of the Geneva Act, that has seen them bomb hospitals, cut of electricity supplies to Gaza and shoot to maim in a context of decreased health infrastructure for over a decade is what has lead to this.

  • Ari Maharaj says:

    Israel’s occupation of Palestine can be expressed as nothing less than Apartheid on steroids. Forceful evictions akin to our own 1950’s Group Areas Act, drastic movement restrictions and unlawful killings. In light of recent events – people should not forget that this is not an even fight.

  • Jennifer Jelsma Jelsma says:

    Every child’s life is precious, Israeli or Palestinian. And these poor displaced children will be tomorrow’s Hamas recruits. Somehow, someone needs to see the humanity of all the people of Palestine and Israel.

  • Vas K says:

    I think the media, especially TV, presenting the conflicts of the past 3 or 4 decades as a form of entertainment is one of the major problems in as much as it desensitizes the viewers. After decades of watching the news and not being able to watch more than 10 minutes without a “humanitarian disaster story”, mostly true but often staged and always presented in a funeral director’s voice, it must take a very special person not to get affected and still really care. Obviously these stories and the way they are presented and often manipulated is what sells both the news and associated agendas.

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