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Gaza: emergency aid alone is not enough

22-01-2009 Operational Update

As the ceasefire declared on 18 January continues to hold despite sporadic shooting, people in Gaza go on searching for missing relatives, mourning the dead and caring for the wounded. Three weeks of intense armed conflict have taken a heavy toll on civilians and it will take time for them to recover from the trauma inflicted on them.

In areas such as Sudania, in Beit Lahiya, and Zaytun, in Gaza City, the water and power supply systems were severely damaged during the conflict. According to the Ministry of Health, fully one fifth of the population of the Gaza Strip have no direct access to drinking water and currently depend on water purchased from private suppliers. In the north of the Strip, where electricity networks suffered major damage during the conflict, households receive power only six hours a day.

" The treatment of sewage is also a problem and could pose a threat to public health, " warned Marek Komarzynski, an ICRC engineer working in Gaza. The Sheikh Ajleen plant in the centre of the Gaza Strip, which treats the raw sewage of an area inhabited by about 400,000 people, has been out of order ever since it was hit by a shell during the second week of the conflict.

Those worst affected by the armed conflict, especially families whose homes were partially or completely destroyed, continue to receive emergency assistance. Repairs of seriously damaged installations vital for the population, such as power and water supply systems, are under way.

 Long-term challenges  

It is not only the most urgent needs but also broader long-term challenges that need to be addressed without delay, to enable people in Gaza to recover from the crisis and live a normal life.

" Before the conflict, the situation was already critical. The closure imposed on Gaza had had a devastating effect on medical facilities, water and sanitation systems, and other vital infrastructure, especially since October 2007, " said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza, who managed the organization's activities in the territory throughout the recent fighting.

" Getting this infrastructure up and running will require the unrestricted and constant flow of building materials and other necessary items into the territory, " explained Mr Grand. " If we go back to the situation we had before the start of the recent fighting, reconstruction will simply be impossible. The expertise and work force that are needed are already available right here in the Gaza Strip. What people in Gaza need now are spare parts and essential supplies like pipes and cement. "

 ICRC activities  

    

  • ICRC staff helped replace the shattered windows and doors of around 600 houses in Rafah and nearby areas in the south of the Gaza Strip, and 430 houses in the Al-Atatra, Shijaiya, Tufah and Zaytun neighbourhoods of Gaza City. This means that since the ceasefire more than 15,000 people have received ICRC emergency aid.

  • Work continued at the Sheikh Ajleen wastewater treatment plant. The sewage line is now repaired. An assessment of the embankment of the sewage basin confirmed that damage was extensive.

  • ICRC teams resumed repair work on the Rafah water network that had been under way when the conflict broke out on 27 December.

 Palestine Red Crescent Society activities  

Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers worked with ICRC staf f to distribute emergency aid. The Society was also asked by the civil defence services to help collect dead bodies found in the rubble. On 21 January, Red Crescent workers transported three bodies to the morgue.

Most repair work on the Palestine Red Crescent-run Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, which was hit and damaged by shelling on 15 January, has been completed. All parts of the hospital, including the laboratory, the emergency room, the operating theatre, the intensive care unit and the maternity ward, are working again. Four pregnant women successfully delivered babies at the hospital on 21 January. Four more patients were admitted today, including two women requiring caesarean sections, a wounded person in need of surgery and a patient under intensive care.

An assessment of the damage to the nearby Palestine Red Crescent compound is under way. The administrative building and the cultural centre, and one of the two warehouses that burned down to the ground following the attack, might have to be fully rebuilt.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society has issued a revised emergency appeal to finance its humanitarian work in the Gaza Strip. For more details please go to palestinercs.org.  

 For further information, please contact  

 Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18  

 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)