A public-health disaster compounds Gaza’s humanitarian crisis

Special A public-health disaster compounds Gaza’s humanitarian crisis
Palestinians wounded waiting to be treated at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on December 16, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 12 March 2024
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A public-health disaster compounds Gaza’s humanitarian crisis

A public-health disaster compounds Gaza’s humanitarian crisis
  • Hellish scenes playing out at enclave’s few still functioning hospitals and clinics
  • Many doctors and nurses have either fled, been wounded or killed in the fighting

DUBAI: Children lie in rows on hospital floors and on pavements outside crowded clinics as they await the attention of sleep-deprived medics. Many are caked in dust, congealed with blood and tears, their untreated wounds growing septic the longer they wait.

Among them, men and women search frantically for missing loved ones or plead with doctors for medical attention, while mothers cradle dying infants. With supplies of gauze now scarce, many are bandaged in a patchwork of whatever fabric is available.

Deprived of antiseptics and even clean water, doctors are forced to perform operations and amputations without sterilized equipment, leading to infections for which there are no antibiotics. These often take place without anesthetic or pain relief.

Such hellish scenes are playing out at the few remaining hospitals and clinics across the Gaza Strip, which has endured months of bombardment and effective siege since Israel launched its retaliation for the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7.




Palestinian children suffering from malnutrition receive treatment at a healthcare center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024. (AFP)

“There are still patients and casualties who are scheduled for operations that cannot be performed because there are no supplies, no anesthetic drugs, no generators in these hospitals,” Hisham Mhanna, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Rafah, told Arab News.

“It’s a mess. It’s a catastrophe.”

This, at a time when doctors and nurses have themselves fled, been wounded or even killed amid the bombardment. According to the World Health Organization, just 30 percent of Gaza’s medics are still working — many of them stretched to breaking point.

“They deal with the resulting casualties that are coming into the emergency rooms after airstrikes,” said Mhanna. “This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of patients and vulnerable groups, including cancer patients, people with disabilities, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases.”




A Palestinian woman comforts her children as they wait at the hospital to be checked in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 12, 2023. (AFP)

According to Hamas-run Gaza’s Ministry of Health, some 30,900 Palestinians have been killed, 70,500 injured, and 7,000 have gone missing since the violence began. Faced with such carnage, the local health system is buckling.

On Feb. 18, the WHO said Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza, where fighting is ongoing, was no longer functional.

“The European Gaza Hospital is the only hospital that’s functional and can provide advanced healthcare services such as surgeries, intensive care and X-rays,” Jessica Moussan, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Dubai, told Arab News.

“There are a few other hospitals partially functioning that have been provided a few supplies.”




A picture shows the damage in Nasser Hospital and the surrounding area in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on February 26, 2024. (AFP)

At the end of January, the ICRC said: “Gaza is at risk of complete medical shutdown without urgent action to preserve services.”

In a statement, William Schomburg, head of the ICRC office in Gaza, said: “Every hospital in the Gaza Strip is overcrowded and short on medical supplies, fuel, food and water.

“Many are housing thousands of displaced families. And now two more facilities risk being lost due to the fighting. The cumulative impact on the health system is devastating and urgent action must be taken.”

INNUMBERS

30,900 Palestinians killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to local health officials.

1.3% Proportion of Gaza’s prewar population of 2.3m killed in the conflict.

70,500 People registered as injured, although the true figure is likely far higher.

Just nine of Gaza’s 36 health facilities are still functioning, many only partially, and all at many times their intended capacity. The crowding is made worse by displaced families camped out on hospital grounds, believing they are safe there from the Israeli bombardment.

“The few remaining hospitals that are still functioning struggle on a daily basis with large numbers of casualties in addition to the pressure resulting from the thousands of families who are internally displaced at the hospitals,” said Mhanna.




Palestinians run for cover next to covered bodies after an Israeli airstrike near the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. (AFP)

The displacement of some 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants to densely packed refugee camps has left the population — especially young children — vulnerable to waterborne diseases, placing further pressure on health services.

There are also the cases generated by the spread of disease during the war, added Mhanna.

“At certain points sewage was flooding into the hospitals. There is also no personal space, and people cannot afford to buy food,” he said.

“They would rather buy food than hygiene items and without hygiene items you create the perfect storm for a public health crisis filled with waterborne diseases like cholera, hepatitis, chicken pox and influenza, because it is also cold here.”

Then there are those suffering with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, who have been unable to access routine treatments and therapies since the onset of the crisis, not to mention those in need of physiotherapy and mental health support.




Children injured in an Israeli strike are rushed to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on October 15, 2023. (AFP)

Among the most vulnerable are pregnant women and newborns, who lack access to midwives, surgeons and incubators, as well as pain relief and antiseptics, making complications even more likely.

Critics say the vast destruction is evidence that Israel’s attacks are disproportionate and fail to limit civilian casualties. “Hospitals, intended to be safe havens … have frequently turned into death traps,” the Israeli watchdog Physicians for Human Rights said in a report published in February.

The Israeli government says its military does not target civilians or hospitals and blames Hamas for conducting military operations and launching rockets from crowded residential areas.

Israeli officials have also disputed claims of a mounting hunger crisis in Gaza. One official, recently cited by Bloomberg, said “there is not a shortage of food or water in the Gaza Strip at the moment,” and “it’s just not true that starvation is looming.”

Aid agencies say the limit on the amount of humanitarian relief permitted to enter Gaza by the Israeli military has caused widespread malnutrition, which doctors lack the resources to treat.

Despite repeated warnings by aid agencies about an impending famine, several Gazans have reportedly starved to death.




Aid agencies say the limit on the amount of humanitarian relief permitted to enter Gaza by the Israeli military has caused widespread malnutrition. (AFP)

In northern Gaza, where 300,000 people are thought to remain, around 16 percent of children under the age of two were acutely malnourished as of January, according to the UN. The organization has cited an “unprecedented” rate of decline in the nutritional status of Gazans.

Aid groups operating in Gaza say it has become almost impossible to deliver supplies due to inspections and procedural red tape put in place by the Israeli military, the ongoing fighting, and the complete breakdown of public order.

Even when aid is delivered, crowds of desperate Palestinians quickly overwhelm convoys before relief can be distributed and rationed to the neediest. Such crowds have resulted in crushes, causing further death and injury.

One such incident on Feb. 29, in which more than 100 Palestinians who rushed an aid convoy were killed — many apparently shot dead by Israeli forces — prompted the US to airdrop 38,000 meals into the enclave on March 2.




A man mourns at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, over the bodies of Palestinians killed in an early morning incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks, on February 29, 2024. (AFP)

In a statement on Monday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US was working to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza “through as many channels as possible,” including more airdrops because “the situation is simply intolerable.”

“People are desperate for food and water,” said Miller. “Parents are facing impossible choices about how to feed their children. Many don’t know where the next meal will come from, or if it will come at all.”

Although the airdrops offer desperately needed relief, Mhanna said many of the parachuted crates landed in dangerous places where they were often mobbed by desperate crowds, causing accidents, injuries, and brawls.

“These airdrops are our last resort for aid supplies,” he said. “We have seen them land on the rooftops, in the streets. And when they do, people rush to get to the first one, at times fighting each other for the aid.

“This is what makes the ceasefire more urgently needed than ever. We need these safe spaces to access the aid.”




The UN said around 16 percent of children under the age of two in northern Gaza are acutely malnourished as of January. (AFP)

While a ceasefire would ease the burden of further injuries and the release of additional aid would allow medics to save more lives, the damage to Gaza’s health system will likely take years to repair.

Indeed, if the conflict were to end now, approximately 8,000 more people could still die over the next six months as a result of the public health crisis, according to a report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health.

“Even if there is a ceasefire, the healthcare system and its workers will not be able to recover quickly,” said Mhanna. “Healthcare workers have been on their knees for months. I don’t see how they can respond to such great needs.”

 


Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer
Updated 2 sec ago
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer
  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death
TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment
Updated 54 min 48 sec ago
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Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment
  • The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of Amman, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated

AMMAN: Police in Jordan said on Saturday they had uncovered and detonated explosives stored in a residential area of the capital and were investigating the incident.
The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of the capital, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated, according to a brief statement by public security directorate. Witnesses said the area was sealed by police.
The statement did not say if police suspected it was terrorism related or if arrests were made, or detail the quantity of explosives. It added more details would be published once the investigation was complete.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Most of the clandestine flow of arms into the country has been bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordanian officials say.
There have also been arrests of several Jordanians linked to the Palestinian militant group Hamas suspected of involvement in smuggling arms to the West Bank, they add.


Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank
Updated 22 June 2024
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Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank
  • The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said on Saturday that an Israeli civilian died after being shot near the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya and that troops had launched an operation in the area.
The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details.
“IDF troops are currently operating in the area of Qalqilya after an Israeli civilian was pronounced dead, shortly after being found shot in the area,” the military said in a statement.
Israeli media reported that the dead man, who was in his 60s, was a Jewish Israeli citizen.
In recent days, there have been several violent incidents in Qalqilya and its vicinity.
On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian authorities said at least two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli operation in the city.
Israeli authorities said the two were militants from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.
Violence in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has been on the rise for more than a year, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.


Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
Updated 22 June 2024
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Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
  • Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates, five conservatives and a relative reformist
  • Election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions, compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.

Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”


UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan
Updated 22 June 2024
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UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

DUBAI: The UAE will allocate $5 million to support the Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF) that would be managed by the United Nations, state-run WAM news agency reported. 
In an agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UAE contribution to the Sudan Humanitarian Fund will be managed by OCHA, in order to “facilitate access to funds to address the most critical humanitarian needs and emergencies on the ground,” WAM reported. 
Martin Griffiths, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in a statement said: “We are deeply grateful to the Government and the people of the United Arab Emirates for your generous support of $70 million to help bring relief to the people of Sudan through the United Nations. With this allocation, we can bolster our lifesaving support to families and communities caught up in Sudan's unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
“The UAE’s long-term support to Sudan is a testament to our dedication to fostering a prosperous Sudan and promoting stability in the region. We are pleased to partner with OCHA and other UN agencies to deliver vital aid to those most impacted,” according to Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“I reiterate the UAE’s unwavering position is to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and a peaceful solution to the crisis,” she added.

Meanwhile, Emirati officials also signed an agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and prevent the imminent risk of famine. 

FAO has received US$5 million in funding from the UAE, which will be directed towards the project titled ‘Mitigating Famine in Sudan – Support to Conflict-Affected Vulnerable Smallholder Farming and Pastoralist Households’.

The FAO project, set to run for one year, aims to provide emergency crop, livestock, and veterinary assistance to 275,000 vulnerable smallholder farmer and pastoralist households, benefiting approximately 1,375,000 individuals.

The UAE contributions to OCHA and FAO are part of a broader commitment of $70 million dedicated to addressing urgent humanitarian needs in Sudan, through UN agencies and humanitarian organizations.

This funding is a substantial portion of the $100 million pledge made by the UAE in April at a global humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighboring countries.
This contribution takes the total amount of UAE aid to Sudan in the past 10 years to more than $3.5 billion.