Gaza: wounded people dying while waiting for ambulances

05-01-2009 Operational Update

As the number of casualties continues to rise in the Gaza Strip, the ICRC is focusing on arranging safe passage for Palestine Red Crescent ambulances, which collect the wounded and transport them to hospitals.

©Reuters /S. Salem 
05.01.2009. Shifa hospital in Gaza 
  ©Reuters /S. Salem 
  05.01.2009. Wounded Palestinian boys wait for treatment at Shifa hospital.    
  ©Reuters /M. Salem 
  05.01.2009. Gaza. Palestinians survey their damaged house after an Israeli air strike.    

Ambulance movements are coordinated with the Israeli authorities and Palestinian factions in order to make sure that Palestine Red Crescent workers are not caught in the hostilities. Tragically, in most instances it takes hours before the ambulances can reach the wounded.

" Some wounded people simply die while waiting for an ambulance, " said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza. " This is of course absolutely appalling. The ambulances must reach the injured as fast as possible. "

In some other cases, ambulances cannot reach the wounded at all because of the ongoing fighting and shelling.

In addition, many health workers cannot reach their workplaces in hospitals because of the ongoing fighting. This places additional strain on available medical staff, who are already exhausted. Most hospitals report that their emergency rooms and intensive care units are overwhelmed. At least two hospitals are set to run out of fuel for their generators, which are now the only source of power available to run medical equipment. The ICRC will try to arrange safe passage for fuel tankers from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) to these hospitals.

" Hospitals, medical staff and ambulances must be respected at all times. Ambulances must have access to all areas in order to evacuate the wounded, " said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

  Water supplies for half a million people about to run out  

In the north of the Gaza Strip, resi dents are reported to have fled their homes seeking refuge. Some have gone to United Nations shelters, others are staying with relatives. Many, however, remain trapped in their homes as they have no place to go and are too frightened to venture out.

The situation in regard to the water supply is alarming. Because of the disruption of four power lines that normally bring electricity from Israel to Gaza City, 10 of the 45 wells in the city are no longer functioning. Two wells have been damaged by air strikes and the remaining wells are set to shut down in the coming two to three days, when their support generators will run out of fuel.

" If the power supply is not restored immediately, half a million residents of Gaza City will be completely deprived of water, " warned Javier Cordoba, the ICRC's water and sanitation coordinator. " Ensuring safe access for technicians to repair the power lines is now an urgent priority, " he said.

  ICRC activities  
  • The ICRC's war-surgery team, consisting of two doctors and two nurses, was able to cross into Gaza today. It will be helping surgeons at Shifa Hospital to treat complicated injuries.

  • The ICRC continues to coordinate safe passage for Palestine Red Crescent ambulances and for technicians attempting to repair essential services such as the power lines that provide electricity from Israel to Gaza.

  • The ICRC has brought new supplies of blood and 1,000 doses of tetanus toxoid vaccines into Gaza. Hospitals had completely run out of these vaccines, which are potentially lifesaving for patients with dirty wounds or needing an operation.

  Activities of the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom  

The Palestine Red Crescent Society reports that its ambulances assisted 46 casualties during the 24 hours from Sunday to Monday noon. Included in this figure are 15 fatalities. The Palestine Red Crescent underlines that it received other calls for help that it could not respond to because of the ongoing hostilities.

The Magen David Adom continued to provide humanitarian support for people living in southern Israel, which is under daily rocket attack. It has distributed brochures over the past few days informing the population about basic first-aid procedures and about stress symptoms in order to minimize their effects.

The Magen David Adom reports a total of four killed and 335 injured (13 severely) since the beginning of the conflict. In addition, 243 inhabitants have been treated for anxiety attacks.

  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)