12 January 2009
REUTERS/Ismail Zaydah/courtesy www.alertnet.orgAs military operations enter their third week, the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza is placing some 1.5 million Palestinian lives and welfare at risk. The UN reports more than 800 deaths and over 3,300 injured, many severely.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has issued a public statement about its concern over the hostilities in Gaza and the tragic impact on its population.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is still receiving dozens of calls from people in inaccessible areas asking for help. "Yesterday, we received a call from a family of 40 people, including 20 children, staying in a house in the Netzarim area. They told us they had not had drinking water for almost six days because the well supplying water to their house had been damaged," said an ICRC employee in Gaza, who is herself staying at her aunt's house, together with 17 other family members who have fled insecure areas near Gaza City.
With landline communication networks damaged, mobile networks overloaded and no electricity to recharge phones, it is becoming more and more difficult for the local population to stay in contact with family members. Many people are increasingly anxious and worried about their loved ones.
The number of those who cannot be reached and assisted remains high and aid workers are under growing pressure. "We are doing our best, sparing no effort to rescue people when we can," said a Palestine Red Crescent Society paramedic. "We are frustrated that we cannot do more. Rescue operations are often aborted because of the lack of access. They are also becoming more and more dangerous, and we are getting more and more scared."
Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza, said: "To hear such words from Palestine Red Crescent paramedics, who are among the bravest – and who have been working under fire, in extremely difficult conditions – makes our call for safe access and security ever more pressing."
ICRC staff remain on standby awaiting authorization from the Israeli authorities to escort Palestine Red Crescent ambulances to Al-Atartra in Beit Lahya, to Zaytun and to an area east of Jabalia in order to search for and evacuate the wounded.
Basic health needs
Hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including Shifa Hospital, continue to run on generators 20 to 24 hours a day because of the risk of power cuts and in order to keep life-saving equipment operating round the clock.
As it has not been possible for the past two days to bring medical supplies from the north of the Gaza Strip to hospitals in the south, these facilities are experiencing shortages of medicine and other medical items. The transfer of patients to Rafah for evacuation into Egypt has also been suspended, as has the transportation of medical personnel living in the south for regular rotations at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
While hospitals are managing to cope with the influx of wounded people despite all the difficulties they are facing, the situation in the primary healthcare sector appears to be worsening. Many primary healthcare centres are no longer functioning. This has had a serious effect on those in need of regular medical follow-up, such as patients with chronic diseases and pregnant women. "It is quite alarming," said Palina Asgeirsdottir, an ICRC health delegate. "If this situation persists, the long-term consequences for these patients could be quite serious. For the past two weeks, the focus has, rightly, been on the wounded, but we must not forget those in need of basic healthcare."
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is at the forefront of the humanitarian response, able to act because it is understood to be a neutral and independent humanitarian actor that seeks to protect civilians and meet unmet humanitarian need.
These founding principles underpin the Movement’s response. Put simply, the Movement’s neutrality is imperative to accessing the victims.
Delivering humanitarian aid
In Gaza, Palestinian Red Crescent hospitals, medical teams and ambulances are responding to the needs of people around the clock. The ICRC’s main operational priority is to support hospitals in Gaza by providing medical supplies, generators and a surgical team.
In Israel, the Magen David Adom (National Society of Israel) is on high alert and is providing first aid and ambulance services.
In Egypt, the National Society is helping get medical supplies into Gaza and evacuating critically wounded people to hospital. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has donated £205,000 to deliver basic relief items to meet the needs of 800 people in the form of food and non food relief, and emergency shelter, and to support the Egyptian Red Crescent Society’s response activities related to the crisis in Gaza.
The British Red Cross has contributed £75,000 from its Disaster Fund to the Palestinian Red Crescent’s relief effort, offered assistance to Magen David Adom and has six delegates with the ICRC in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
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