Article by: Aadrita Halder
It has been 121 days since the war on Gaza by Israel commenced. A plethora of videos and images now circulate on social media platforms showcasing the plight of Palestinians, especially the ones living in the besieged Gaza.
The life of a Gazan is marked by fighter jets dropping artillery shells, the constant hum of drones in the air, loss of life and grief. The catastrophic atrocities have left most hospitals in the Gaza Strip barely functioning to deal with the injuries sustained by almost 2.2 million displaced people. Doctors, who are also dealing with their losses have to make quick decisions regarding how to save people with a medical supply that is rapidly running out. “It doesn’t match anything I have seen before, even with previous escalations and war.”, said Mohamed S Ziara, a Palestinian doctor, to Al Jazeera over a WhatsApp phone call. The partially functioning hospitals in Gaza are struggling to deal with patients as more and more healthcare facilities and personnel are being attacked. The attack on Al-Shifa hospitals raises questions on the legality of such hostilities. Human Rights Watch asserts that such acts must be “investigated as war crimes”.
At the time of writing this article Britain, Finland, and Italy have paused funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) which was set up to help refugees of the war in 1948. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry criticized the move and described it as an Israel campaign against UNRWA. The lack of humanitarian aid that was being sent to Gaza which is already meagre to begin with leaves it devastated in unimaginable proportions. The restrictions imposed on Gaza by Israel have made it nearly impossible to develop and properly modernise healthcare systems even before this war started. The constant bombing and restrictions on the movement of humanitarian agencies do not make the situation any better. The International Court of Justice on the emergency measures requested by South Africa ruled that Israel must “take steps to prevent acts of genocide” without any mention of an immediate ceasefire. With a permanent end or a ceasefire nowhere in sight, it is difficult to assume how much and to what extent the situation will change for Gazans.
Among its victims, the war leaves around 52,000 pregnant women without proper medical help. Relentless airstrikes have left this staggering population living in the tiny enclave at risk of postpartum haemorrhage. Breastfeeding is also often impossible. Forty per cent of pregnancies are at high risk, according to an estimation by CARE Internationals. Young mothers, pregnant women and newborns are facing threatening conditions. Women are forced to deliver babies in unimaginable conditions, where hospitals are overcrowded with rapidly depleting medical supplies. They are having to go through C-sections without anaesthesia. CARE reports, that approximately 17,000 women have given birth during the period since the start of escalation on January 14th.
Increasing reports of births where both the mothers and their children have not survived are emerging. Emergency and maternity care are minimal. The increasing number of electricity and communication blackouts due to the severe bombing has further left the partially running hospitals crippled. Aya Deeb a young mother recalls “I was in labour and all I could hear was the warplanes roaring overhead, the shelling. There was fear everywhere.” There is so much a pregnant woman needs especially during the last few months, Aya remembers having to go without proper food or even clean water. She dreams of a better future that is free of war and fear for her child.
Dealing with menstrual cycles has become almost impossible as pharmacies are running out of pads. Even if they are getting restocked, pads are sold at a price much higher than the original. This makes it tremendously difficult for most Gazans to access it. The U.N. estimates that around 700,000 women and girls go through menstrual cycles without proper access to pads, toilet paper or even clean running water. This leaves them vulnerable to several illnesses and contracting urinary tract infections. Women have started to take pills to delay their cycles or use cloth as they move around from one fragile shelter to the next.
A lot of Gaza is undergoing a severe crisis of drinking water and clean bathrooms. Sewage flows into the streets as sanitation services are barely operating raising prospects of infectious diseases like cholera as well as respiratory and skin diseases. About 44,000 cases of cholera and 70,000 cases of acute respiratory infections have been recorded by WHO but actual numbers are likely to be higher. The rains have made the situation much more dire. Overcrowding, lack of clean toilets, and clean drinking water are aggravating the health catastrophe that Gaza is going through. The halt of important services like sewage treatment and hospitals adds to the plight of people already suffering from other diseases like high pressure and kidney ailments. People placing buckets outside their tents in the rain to collect rainwater to quench their thirsts also surfaced online.
Civilians face threats of immediate starvation and dehydration as the war wages on and Israel increases their raids. The fuel shortage further worsens the situation, leaving Gazans without electricity and sometimes even an internet connection. This has had massive repercussions for hospitals and doctors who have had to operate with the help of flashlights.
The resilience and compassion of Gazans even in a situation that marks upon the collective conscience of humanity, has been unrelenting. Despite being pushed to the extreme every second of the day they continue to believe in life. A lot of them have taken it upon themselves to document their surrounding situations so that the world never forgets about Palestine and its people and what they stood for.
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