A hidden crisis is unfolding—and the international community is not fulfilling its obligationsby Aimee Shalan / September 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
Quietly, a man-made emergency is unfolding in Gaza. Blighted by stifling blockade and closure, Gaza has suffered a decade of humanitarian decline and economic ruin. Its two million inhabitants have the highest unemployment rate in the world. 80 per cent are dependent on some form of international aid, and the basic right to movement or travel to other areas of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is denied.
This year, those woes have been compounded by an unprecedented electricity crisis. In April, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel and ceased working. In June, Israel reduced the amount of power it provides to Gaza by a third at the request of the Palestinian Authority. Though the power plant has resumed some limited function, Gaza still only receives on average four to six hours of electricity per day, with some homes receiving as little as two.
This is having devastating effects. Sewage treatment and desalination plants are operating minimally, severely limiting access to potable water and seriously contaminating 73 per cent of the shoreline. In July, the first death from this pollution was reported: a five-year-old boy, Mohammed Ahmed Salim al-Sayes, contracted a bacterial infection while swimming in the sea with his family and died of associated complications ten days later. The International Committee of the Red Cross and others have warned of an impending public health crisis.
Meanwhile, hospitals and clinics are struggling to provide even the most essential services. Electricity cuts mean prolonged use of backup generators which regularly break down and for which parts are hard to procure. Switching between mains and generator power has damaged sensitive but vital equipment such as CT scanners. Sanitation, cleaning and even laundry services have been scaled back significantly, risking increased hospital infections, and fewer operations are taking place.
The youngest and most seriously ill are most at risk, including at least 100 patients in intensive care and 133 new-born babies in incubators. In one recent incident, staff at the neonatal intensive care unit at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City had to provide care to 71 seriously ill babies, despite the unit only having capacity for 43, placing multiple babies in incubators designed for just one.
This incident crystallises additional challenges to the health sector, including worsening maternal nutrition, shortages of essential medicines and consumables, and the growing barriers to referral to hospitals…