With close to a quarter of a million Palestinians rendered homeless by the continuing and intensifying fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations met three times in as many days to organize action to confront the humanitarian crisis.
In addition to the current material needs — food, water, personal hygiene items, medicine and diesel fuel for generators — the Catholic aid associations from the Holy Land, U.S. and Europe are beginning to plan for the psychosocial needs of Gazans at the eventual end to the confrontation.
“We are talking about a massive number of people who will be in need of help, and of at least 200,000 children who will need intervention,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem Office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
CNEWA ran such a program after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2012, he said.
In addition, he said, lack of drinking water has become a critical issue with the bombing of Gaza’s only electrical power plant, which has left the area largely without electricity for pumping water and sewage treatment. Diesel fuel is urgently needed for generators while milk for young children is also in short supply, he said.
CNEWA had been supplying the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital with fuel for the generator for intermittent power outages, but after the attack on the power plant in late July, the hospital was left without any fuel and had to shut down all operations, said El-Yousef, who received a phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night. The next day he was able to provide the hospital with funds to purchase more fuel. The hospital needs some 500-600 liters of fuel per day now because the generator is its only source of power, said El-Yousef.
The unsanitary conditions in the streets are also causing illnesses, and El-Yousef said many children are coming to the hospital with cases of malnutrition, diarrhea and fever. The hospital is also treating many of those injured, he said. Other clinics are located in dangerous areas and have been shut down almost from the start of the hostilities, he said.
“It is really desperate,” he said.
Though there are medicines available in Gaza, there is a shortage of medications in the hospitals because people and institutions have used up their credit lines, and cash to purchase them is not available, El-Yousef said. CNEWA has been able to give written financial assurances to the banks, enabling the hospital to make necessary purchases, he said.
“Every day the situation is getting worse and people are reluctant to move outside,” said El-Yousef.
Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, credited the “heroic” staffers in Gaza for their continued dedication in distributing aid kits to those most in need during lulls in the fighting. Several of the staff members have lost family members, and others are now homeless but have continued to work to provide for others, he said.
“They are a committed, selfless team,” he said. “They are doing God’s work.”
In the last week of July, CRS supplied 500 families with nonfood kits, which included things like cooking sets, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene kits, water storage buckets and solar powered lanterns. Staffers normally would have been able to distribute 500 packages per day but could not because of the precarious situation, McGarry said.
He said CRS was in the process of procuring and distributing another 2,500 such aid packages and was working to get medical relief supplies via the U.S. Agency for International Development.
McGarry said people were desperate, and on 30 July the staff halted distribution when dozens of people who had not been registered came to the distribution point demanding the packages. Their details were taken and CRS will look to see if they fit the CRS criteria: people whose homes have been destroyed and who are not receiving any other assistance, said McGarry.
He said staffers have been able to procure some of the supplies locally, which helps Palestinians, while other supplies came from USAID shipments through the Israeli border, in coordination with Israeli authorities, he said.
“The situation is increasingly desperate and catastrophic,” he said. “The numbers are so huge and the needs so enormous.”