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Gaza Strip: the Press of War on People’s Health

The last war in the Gaza Strip has left many people in bad conditions. Their health, food, home security and living conditions as a whole got worse in the last year. The situation is unbearable and cannot improve without Israel pressure relief combined with not hypocrite help by the international system

The last Gaza war had a huge impact on Palestinian people. There were 2,251 Palestinian deaths against 73 Israeli and 11,231 Palestinian injuries against 1,600 Israeli. But the shadow of the war does not stop at this. In fact, the economic consequences are enormous. The slow pace of recovery in Gaza has been insufficient to make up for the 2014 recession and conflict. Timid signals of growth in the first quarter of 2015, driven by the reconstruction process, came to a halt in the third quarter. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Gaza economy is not expected to reach its 2013 annual level until the end of 2017.

Additionally, one and half year after the 2014 hostilities, more than 7,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) are estimated to remain in the Gaza Strip. Only 30 per cent of ERW have been identified and removed. The remaining 70 per cent pose a threat to the population of Gaza, especially children and adults who work on agricultural land littered with ERW.

What’s more, victims are not only caused by war, but by low quality healthcare as well. In fact, nearly 50 per cent of Gaza medical equipment is outdated and the average wait for spare parts is approximately 6 months. In 2014, the MoH Central Drug Store in Gaza reported that an average of 26 per cent of medicines on the essential drug list (124 of 481 items) and 47 per cent of medical disposables (424 of 902 items) were at or near zero stock for MoH facilities. The main reason was an insufficient budget rather than security restrictions imposed by Israel. Furthermore, increasing poverty is the most pervasive barrier to specialized health services access.

Limited opportunity for health professionals in Gaza to attend training courses abroad and access restrictions to get familiar with new medical techniques is also slowing down improvements in developing health care services in Gaza. Political disagreements between the concerned parties remain a challenge in spite of the April 2014 reconciliation between Ismail Hanijeh, the prime minister of Hamas, and a senior PLO delegation dispatched by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Moreover, as stated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Gaza blockade is responsible for a chronic energy crisis in the coastal enclave, impairing service delivery, students’ educational outcomes, the functioning of hospitals and medical equipment and the working of more than 280 water and waste water facilities. Over recent weeks, these circumstances have further worsened and brought increased hardship to Gaza people, with daily electricity supply being only 4-8 hours on (12 hours off) schedule.

Gaza hospitals not only lack electricity but, as reported, the entire health care system is in ruins due to Israeli restrictions on the import of medical equipment from outside Gaza. Israel allows patients to receive medical care abroad only in life-and-death cases, involving a lengthy bureaucratic process. This leaves many Palestinians in Gaza suffering from severe orthopedic problems, visual and hearing impairments or other serious illnesses without access to the required medical care and treatments.

The poor living conditions are made even worse by food insecurity. As such, many Palestinian farmers, fishers and herders face many challenges. Relevantly, since the Separation Barrier and Israeli settlements expand, farmers have increasingly less land and water resources for their crops and animals.

Adding to access constraints, families face disproportionate economic hurdles. For example, many must rely on water brought by tankers, which costs four-times more than the networked water supply. The high costs of livelihood inputs – such as fertilizers and animal feed – reduce farmers’ profits and inflate market prices. These conditions lock communities in poverty, leaving one in five Palestinians food insecure. In particular, 47 per cent of Palestinian households in the Gaza Strip were food insecure in 2014, with a 2 per cent increase in 2015.

Food access decline in Gaza is a result of growing unemployment, high food prices, and extreme volatility of the economy. But, fortunately, something is moving on. On 3 April 2016, Israel just expanded the Palestinian fishing zone off the southern portion of Gaza coast to nine nautical miles from six, allowing fishing in areas that had been off limits for a decade. The expansion of the fishing zone is expected to add 400.000 shekels, nearly $ 106.000, to the 6 million shekels in annual revenue generated by Gaza’s fishing industry.

However, aside from the good news above, there’s nothing to be happy for since the situation as a whole is unbearable for almost all the population and many concerns are renewed every day. The fragile political context, the disastrous humanitarian conditions, as well as the lack of adequate water supplies and electricity services are only few of the many issues on the table.

The resources received from international organizations may have limited impact without Israel pressure relief. Furthermore, the international political fora should stop blathering nice words suitable for the occasion and leave the veil of hypocrisy. This is nothing new, but the only way of guaranteeing a better future to Gaza population.

Pietro Dionisio.