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Gaza: situation of civilians increasingly precarious, primary health-care worsening

10-01-2009 Operational Update

As military operations in Gaza enter their third week, the situation of civilians is becoming increasingly precarious. People trapped in zones where military operations are taking place are particularly affected.

   
  ©Reuters /I. Abu Mustafa 
 
  09.01.2009. A Palestinian woman sits beside her destroyed house after Israeli air strike in Rafah.    
       
  ©Reuters /I. Abu Mustafa 
 
  08.01.2009. A Palestinian family fleeing from their home in Rafah.    
      

 General situation  

The ICRC is still receiving dozens of calls from people in such areas a 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.

Numerous calls are also coming from people asking for news about their relatives and friends staying in inaccessible areas. With fibre-optic networks used for landline communication damaged, mobile telephone networks overloaded and no electricity available 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 them.

The number of those who cannot be reached and assisted remains high and aid workers are under growing pressure from Gazans, who urge them to do more to help those in need. " We are doing our best, sparing no effort to come rescue people when we can, " said a Palestine Red Crescent Society paramedic. " We are ourselves 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. "

" To hear such words from Palestine Red Crescent paramed ics, 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, " echoes Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza.

 
 

 ICRC activities  

Today, the ICRC facilitated the safe passage of five fire trucks to put out a massive fire caused by shelling in the northern part of Gaza City.

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.

 
 

 Electricity  

Although some damaged electricity networks have been repaired, the power supply remains irregular and unreliable. The Gaza power plant is running out of fuel. It has not been refilled over the past two days because the security situation has prevented delivery of fuel from Gaza City.

 
 

 Health  

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 health facilities such as the European, Naser and Al-Aqsa 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 transportatio n 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 health-care sector appears to be worsening. Many primary health-care centres are no longer functioning –some because they have been damaged. 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 health care. "

 
 
  For further information, please contact
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 9302
  Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50
  Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)
  Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)
  Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)