14 Dec 2023

Humanitarian crisis worsening in Gaza - UNICEF

From Checkpoint, 6:08 pm on 14 December 2023

Heavy rain in Gaza is adding to the anguish of families displaced by the Israel-Hamas war. 

Some families living in temporary camps are now dealing with flooded tents, surrounded by a bog. 

The UN children's agency estimates 1 million children in the Palestinian territory have been displaced as a result of Israel's bombardment of the region, in retaliation for the Hamas attacks in October

UNICEF says the humanitarian crisis is worsening as more people are being forced further south into overcrowded areas - some of which are now turning into bogs.

"The storms overnight and yesterday… have really added another layer of complication," Alexandra Murdoch told Checkpoint on Thursday, calling from Amman in Jordan, which borders Israel to the east.

"And we have been sounding the alarm on this for some time and the situation is already beyond crisis point, with 85 percent of the population in Gaza displaced and a million of those being children.

"People are being forced further and further south into small overcrowded spaces where there isn't enough shelter. And the safe areas - that I say in inverted commas - safe areas account for 30 percent of Gaza and we have a population of… 1.9 million, so people are not going to have enough room in such a small area to find appropriate shelter. So they are sleeping outside on the concrete in areas of dust. Honestly, it is dire.

"And now we have the rains, there are no latrines and there is really a lack of safe drinking water. So parents are having to make the choice to give their children dirty salinated water, which is going to lead to sickness. So it's a really dire picture."

The Gaza Health Ministry's latest figure was more than 18,600 killed in Israeli attacks on the small region since fighting began. Thousands more were missing. Israel has lost nearly 1400 people, the vast majority during Hamas' attack on 7 October, which sparked the present war.

A vote at the UN Security Council for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire would have passed easily if it were not for the US veto. Eventually, more than three-quarters of the 193-member UN General Assembly backed the move.

A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on 8 December, 2023, shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike in northern Gaza, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Photo: AFP / Jack Guez

Murdoch said the weather was getting colder and wetter.

"I'm in Amman at the moment, so I'm not too far away. The rain here yesterday was pounding down. It was flowing, there were rivers of rain flowing. So if you're coping with that in Gaza, on top of having nowhere, you're going to be soaked through.

"And as I say, on top of the conditions being so difficult without sanitary facilities, no toilets, and no safe water, it's gonna be so difficult for people and it's gonna be really challenging to contain sickness and disease as well."

UNICEF was doing what it could to help children living through experiences "beyond what any child should ever have to endure", Murdoch said.

Palestinians are taking refuge amid the rain at a camp for displaced people in Deir El-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip

Palestinians are taking refuge amid the rain at a camp for displaced people in Deir El-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. Photo: MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP

"We will continue to sound the alarm. We've been sounding the alarm for weeks. Yesterday's vote was an indicator that the majority of nations around the world are calling for what UNICEF considers to be the most important thing, which is a ceasefire.

"So the first thing I would say is we still need a ceasefire because this is the only way we will stop more children from dying or people from dying. 

"And the only way that we can have safe and sustained access into Gaza, the access we're getting isn't, isn't enough. It's a fraction of what we need at the moment. But we are there on the ground providing what we can - safe water, chlorine tablets to ensure that people can have safe drinking water, blankets for children, high-energy biscuits for children and also for pregnant women.

"If people can donate so that when we're able to get even more aid in, we have enough supplies, we would encourage them to do so."