Half of Gaza’s population was already living below the poverty line before the latest escalation between Hamas and Israel. Now humanitarian workers say a bad situation has become even worse.
After 11 days of airstrikes and rocket fire, the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas came to an abrupt halt last month after a ceasefire was reached in the middle of the night.
But humanitarian workers say repairing the widespread damage will be no quick task.
“I think people are exhausted more than before, more than any other round of escalation, because now most people say ‘we are rebuilding’, knowing it will be destroyed again,” says Oxfam’s Laila Barhoum, speaking to SBS News from the charity’s base in Gaza.
“It could be in a week, it could be in a year, it could be in six years like in 2014.”
More than 77,000 Palestinians in Gaza were displaced during the airstrikes. Many have since been able to return home, but for some, there is no home to return to.
Gaza’s Works and Housing Ministry says 16,800 housing units were damaged in the escalation. About 1,000 were destroyed completely, and another 1,800 are now unfit for living in.
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It has placed the cost of rebuilding homes alone at $193 million, on top of the $257 million still needed to rebuild another 2,000 homes destroyed in previous escalations.
More than half the territory’s water network was damaged or destroyed in the bombing, and electricity blackouts are now lasting up to 16 hours per day.
But, even before the escalation, 80 per cent of Gaza’s two million residents were already reliant on humanitarian aid.
Ms Barhoum says returning to the status quo is not the goal.
“Even when people come and seek assistance from us, they don’t always talk about having food assistance or cash assistance, they talk about ‘we want to work, we want jobs, we want to be living in dignity,’” she says.
“What we are really focusing on now, more than before, is to ensure there is full access and free movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza.
“As long as there is any level of restrictions, we’ll be talking about a partial state of recovery that never continues.”
Israel says 13 Israelis were killed and at least 324 were injured in the 11-day conflict.
Gaza’s Health Ministry says 253 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,900 were injured
Humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says many will need ongoing care, but accessing medical supplies is a constant challenge.
Gaza has been under an Israeli-imposed blockade since 2007, with the movement of people and goods heavily restricted.
“Only the daily or weekly required supplies for most basic needs – and this includes medical supplies – comes in,” says Gaza-based MSF psychiatrist Juan Paris.
“Luckily, the aggression lasted – I don’t want to say only 11 days, because it was 11 days too long – but it didn’t last any longer, so stocks could be replenished.”
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The United Nations has released $29 million for aid in Gaza and has launched an appeal for another $122 million over the next three months.
Qatar and Egypt have both pledged $643 million to help rebuild Gaza, while the US is promising $145 million for Palestinian aid more broadly.
In Australia, the charity Olive Kids has already raised about $100,000 through a recent emergency appeal.
While it cannot send supplies directly into Gaza, it is are partnering with aid workers on the ground to help fund their relief efforts.
“To be very honest with you, it is overwhelming,” Olive Kids’ board member Amin Abbas says.
“No matter where you look, especially in Gaza, there’s a need, and we’re overwhelmed with requests for support and help.”
“Our focus has been on providing medical supplies to one of the hospitals in Gaza, the medical centres, provide some urgent fuel for the generators because of the electricity cuts, in addition to providing food packages and health packages.”
Mr Abbas says his team is also urgently trying to arrange sponsorship for some 180 Palestinian children who lost either one or both parents in the conflict.
“We’re not talking about just the infrastructure that was destroyed, it’s also the human suffering and the psychological effect on the children,” he says.
Mental health toll
In Gaza, MSF has also been ramping up its psychological support services.
“What we see after the injuries and after they go through surgery, behind it, there’s a lot of psychological and emotional suffering,” Dr Paris says.
“It’s not only the impact of having been shot at, or the traumatic event, it’s the fact that at home, we’re a huge extended family that live cramped in a house, most of us don’t have solid employment, there’s no certainty of where the income will come from, there’s no certainty of accessing food and water, the electricity goes on and off.
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“We can do fantastic surgeries, but if the person is not fit to recover, they will not recover well.”
Aid organisations agree the psychological impact on children is of particular concern.
A typical 14-year-old child in Gaza has now lived through four escalations between Hamas and Israel.
The Norwegian Refugee Council offers trauma counselling to Gaza’s children.
“We teach them how to change their situation, how to help themselves, how to be able to protect themselves, to control their feelings, to get rid of negative thoughts, also to control their bad attitude towards life,” says the council’s Gaza-based education officer Maysa Saleh.
Her team was devastated to learn 11 of the students they were working with died in the recent airstrikes. All of them were aged under 15.
“We were treating them to get rid of horrible, horrible nightmares resulting from past violent events,” she says.
“They were making good progress on their way to recovery. It was sad to hear some of them lost their lives.”
Thank you for spending your time with us on My Local Pages. We hope you enjoyed checking out this news update about current national news called “Airstrikes may have stopped in Gaza, but now aid workers are struggling to cope with demand”. This story was posted by MyLocalPages Australia as part of our Australian news services.