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Gaza’s humanitarian crisis escalates with ‘no safe zone’, rising infectionsDecember 10, 2023
New Delhi, Dec 10 (IANS) The Gaza strip, once home to 2.3 million people, currently has ‘no safe zone’ for its people, even as Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas. And Israel is now squeezing Gazans to an area that is not bigger (6.5 sq km) than Heathrow airport.
The war began in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 that left at least 1,300 Israelis dead and over 200 — from babies to octogenarians — taken hostage.
Israel has resumed bombarding Gaza after a temporary ceasefire with Hamas which ended on December 1. During the ceasefire, Hamas reportedly freed over 100 hostages.
The Gaza strip besieged by the Israeli military is living off water, power and fuel supplies, amid the heavy bombings since October 7. Several hospitals have been bombarded, and the remaining face critical shortages of drugs, blood products and medical supplies, as well as healthcare workers.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, the war has claimed the lives of more than 17,100 people in Gaza — 70 per cent of them women and children — and wounded more than 46,000. It said the numbers could be far more as many are trapped under rubble.
The UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA), said that 1.9 million people — 85 per cent of Gaza’s population — had also been displaced.
Gaza “is on the brink of full-blown collapse”, Thomas White, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza, wrote on X.
The aid agency, running out of supplies, said its shelters are four times over capacity, and there was not enough aid to meet “the overwhelming needs” and humanitarian operations are “in tatters”.
A UN refugee shelter in central Gaza designed to hold 2,000 people was holding 37,900 displaced people, the agency said in November.
Ironically, Israel has warned civilians to evacuate to “safe zones” to avoid being killed as its defence forces look to, “wipe this thing called Hamas, ISIS-Gaza, off the face of the earth”.
But, as Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, wrote on X: “Nowhere is safe in Gaza. Not hospitals, not shelters, not refugee camps”.
“No one is safe. Not children, not health workers. Not humanitarians,” he added.
The aid agencies have also raised concerns that the current refugee camps lack basic resources like food and water, fuelling the risk of infections and diseases.
An area called al-Mawasi in south Gaza, which is smaller than the UK’s Heathrow Airport, is such an example where Israel has forced 1.8 million Palestinians to move into, Al Jazeera reported.
“If you are going to forcibly evacuate people, you cannot send hundreds of thousands [of] people to places where there is no water and no toilets. I genuinely mean no toilets. Every corner I had turned to, there was another 5,000 people who would appear overnight. They don’t have a single toilet, they don’t have a drop of water,” James Elder, a Unicef spokesperson, was quoted as saying to the BBC.
“These are tiny patches of barren land. They have no water, no facilities, no shelter from the cold, no sanitation.”
According to a physician Elder spoke with in Gaza, “safe zones will become zones of disease.”
The ever-increasing number of refugees in shelters are being crippled with “unsanitary conditions and face severe shortages of food and water, leading to increases in respiratory infections, scabies, jaundice and diarrhoea”, said the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Meanwhile, Guterres has invoked Article 99 while urging the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and appealed for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.
Thirteen countries were in favour of the resolution while the United States vetoed and the UK abstained.
Guterres said Gaza is at “a breaking point,” as it faces hunger and hundreds of strikes daily.
“There is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza. Gazans are running out of food, facing starvation. In northern Gaza, 97 percent of households are not eating enough. The last functioning flour mill in Gaza was destroyed on 15 November.”