Gaza: massive devastation calls for vast humanitarian effort

20-01-2009 Operational Update

Since the ceasefire took effect in the Gaza Strip, the scale of the devastation and the need for humanitarian aid have become ever more apparent. Entire families have lost everything and require urgent help meeting such basic needs as shelter, food, water and medical care.

" The level of destruction is absolutely overwhelming, " said ICRC delegate Jérome Giraud. " Most people have not been able to move back to their houses. Many checked on their homes, but then decided to return to the UNRWA shelters. They had no other choice. "

People are assessing the damage sustained by their homes, neighbourhoods and fields. " It is as if they were waking from a nightmare, " said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza. " They are sharing their stories of hardship and survival with the family members and friends they were separated from during this ordeal. "

Tel Al-Hawa, in the centre of Gaza City, was one of the areas hardest hit. This is where Al-Quds Hospital and the main office of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, both damaged on 14 January by shelling, are located. Several public buildings suffered direct hits, turning entire blocks into rubble and wrecking thousands of private houses.

In some areas, the extent of the damage inflicted on civilian properties has yet to be determined. " We expect the needs of the population to be even greater in the southern and northern outskirts of the city, as they are among the areas that bore the brunt of the bombardments, " said Mr Giraud. " The population there is generally poorer. Some people have been left with absolutely nothing. "

Over the coming weeks, the ICRC will provide approximately 80,000 people whose homes were damaged or completely destroyed, who are currently in UNRWA shelters or hosted by relatives or friends, with everything from mattresses and blankets to kitchen utensils, hygiene kits and thic k plastic sheeting that can be used as temporary roofing.

It is clear that it will take time for the population of Gaza to recover from this major crisis. The past three weeks of conflict have only further compounded the already critical situation in humanitarian terms that prevailed over the previous 18 months.

 ICRC activities  

  • Over the past two days ICRC staff have provided around 3,500 people whose homes were badly damaged in the Tel Al-Hawa area of Gaza City with tarpaulins to cover roofs or set up tents, plastic sheeting to replace shattered windows, and other items.

  • ICRC staff accompanied Palestinian engineers to the Sheikh Ajleen wastewater treatment plant, south of Gaza City, to carry out repairs.

  • The ICRC helped to bring 10 ambulances donated by the Swedish Red Cross into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing for delivery to the Palestine Red Crescent.

  • ICRC teams continued to assess needs in Beit Lahiya, Jabaliya and Zaytun, in the north of the Gaza Strip, and in Khan Yunis and Rafah, in the south.

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