The Gaza Strip: A struggle for daily survival amid death, exhaustion and despair

Jan 20, 2024
Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023.

Every time I visit Gaza, I witness how people have sunk further into despair, with the struggle for survival consuming every hour.

In the south, around Rafah, makeshift structures of plastic sheeting have mushroomed everywhere including on the streets, with people trying to protect themselves from the cold and rain. Each one of these flimsy shelters can be home to over 20 people. Rafah is so congested that one can barely drive a car amid the sea of people. The population of Rafah has almost quadrupled, with more than 1.2 million people.

Everyone I met had a personal story of fear, death, loss, trauma to share. Over the 100 days, the people of Gaza have moved from the sheer shock of losing everything, in some cases every member of their family, to a debilitating struggle to stay alive and protect their loved ones.

In Deir al-Balah, in the middle areas, I visited one of our schools turned shelter. The overcrowding was claustrophobic, and the filthiness was striking. I heard stories of women foregoing food and water to avoid having to use the unsanitary toilets. Skin diseases and headlice are rife with those affected stigmatised. People were struggling for food and medicine during the day, feeling cold and damp during the night. They wish to return to their lives before the war but realise, with deep anxiety, that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

With the scarcity of commercial goods allowed into the Strip, the price of basic commodities has increased up to ten times, from the rarely available fruits and vegetables to baby milk to a used blanket on sale. Mountains of uncollected rubbish now fill the streets. The chronically ill do not have sufficient medicine and must learn to live with alternatives or do without, from basic insulin for diabetes to daily tablets for high blood pressure. People are not able to wash and stay clean. Long and repeated blackouts in telecommunications, including internet and mobile phones add to the distress as people feel cut off from the rest of the world. The siege is the silent killer of many.

There is very little information about the north of the Gaza Strip, as access to the area remains highly restricted. I was not authorised to visit; our convoys and aid trucks are often delayed for long hours at the checkpoint. Meanwhile, many desperate people now approach our trucks to get food directly off them, without waiting for distribution. By the time the Israeli authorities give our convoys the greenlight to cross, trucks are almost empty.

Our UNRWA staff are equally impacted. Despite this, they work tirelessly to support the people around them. I am not able to reassure them that they, let alone their families or UN facilities, will be safe.

This has gone on for far too long. There are no winners in these wars. There is endless chaos and growing despair. I call once again for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that can bring some respite and enable a much needed and significant increase in the flow of basic supplies, including through the commercial route. Anything short of this will prolong the misery of an entire population.

 

First published in COUNTERPUNCH January 18, 2024

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