The Gaza Strip, a narrow piece of contested land along the Mediterranean Sea, has been ravaged by over 15 years of clashes and bombardment. The recent escalation in violence has pushed its crumbling infrastructure and impoverished population to the brink, prompting stark warnings from the United Nations.
UN: Gaza Becoming Unlivable Amid Incessant Bombardment
On January 5th, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths declared that the Gaza Strip has become “unlivable” after years of blockade and recurrent conflicts. His bleak assessment came as Israel and Gaza militants pressed on with cross-border shelling and rocket attacks for a fourth day.
Griffiths asserted that the latest bout of violence has exacerbated longstanding humanitarian issues caused by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza. He emphasized that hostilities must cease to prevent further suffering of the territory’s 2.3 million residents.
“Gaza is already in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe, struggling with soaring unemployment and poverty and collapsing public services. But now violence has once again resulted in deaths and injuries of civilians in Gaza and Israel,” Griffiths said.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also cautioned that “recent hostilities risk precipitating Gaza into a humanitarian catastrophe.” Only 25% of households have access to safe drinking water, while chronic power outages can last up to 20 hours per day.
Death Toll Mounts as Bombardment Intensifies
At least 24 Palestinians, including six children, have been killed and over 200 injured since fighting erupted on August 2nd after Israel launched deadly airstrikes in Gaza, assassinating a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group.
In response, PIJ unleashed over 850 rockets into Israel, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and killing three people so far. Israel has conducted over 150 airstrikes on Gaza, hitting weapons sites and flattening residential buildings. Both sides show no signs of halting attacks.
On January 4th, an Israeli strike killed a 75-year old woman and wounded 14 others outside a cemetery in Khan Younis during a funeral procession. The next day, bombardment leveled an apartment building in Gaza City, killing at least four people from the same family and wounded 50.
“My children are buried under here…There is no one else under the rubble. Pull them out so we can bury them,” said distraught father Riyad Eshkountana during the difficult search for survivors.
|Israel launches deadly airstrikes in Gaza after arresting senior PIJ commander
|Death toll rises to 24 Palestinians, 3 Israelis
|Israeli strike kills 75-year old woman at Gaza funeral
|Bombing flattens apartment building, killing 4
The intensity of strikes and rocket barrages appear to be the worst since the 11-day Gaza war in May 2021, which killed at least 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Spectre of Displacement and Homelessness Looms Large
The recent bout of bombardment has displaced over 1,360 Palestinians so far, with over 1,000 sheltering in UN-run schools. Others have fled to relatives living in cramped apartments or makeshift tent encampments.
UN officials worry of a burgeoning shelter crisis given damage to civilian infrastructure. Nearly 120 residential and commercial buildings have been destroyed so far, including a hospital, mosque, and water desalination plant. Critical facilities like healthcare centers and sewage treatment plants are barely functioning due to electricity and water shortages.
“Entire families have been made homeless. Children, parents, grandparents queuing at hospitals, schools turned shelters, seeking food, water, medicine, aid…Gaza has become synonymous with desperation,” bemoaned senior UN envoy Tor Wennesland.
The UN refugee agency UNRWA finds itself overwhelmed, as Executive Director Philippe Lazzarini explains: “In Gaza, there is no safe space and no safe haven anymore when violence is raging and people cannot even find refuge in UN-run schools.”
If hostilities persist, UN officials dread the possibility of another mass wave of internal displacement like in 2021. Back then, over 75,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes during the intense fighting. Many still remain uprooted in temporary shelters.
Gaza Faces Heightened Risk of Hunger and Disease
Ongoing clashes have severely disrupted vital aid and services for Gaza’s population, 60% of whom already live under the poverty line. Food prices are rapidly rising while ordinary Palestinians struggle to afford meals. Staples like bread and vegetables are becoming scarce.
Majed Alwahaidi, a Gaza City grocer, highlights the growing desperation: “People will buy anything now to feed their children. They buy canned goods, tomatoes, pasta. Food has become very expensive.”
The UN World Food Program warns that “the severity of food insecurity in Gaza has never been this bad.” If bombardments continue, it cautions that malnutrition and disease outbreaks could soon take hold, especially among pregnant mothers and young children.
Doctors report that Gaza’s fragile healthcare system is also under severe strain. Vital medical supplies are rapidly dwindling even as healthcare workers deal with growing casualties. Power blackouts hamper critical operations while damage to infrastructure disrupts water sanitation, raising risks of water-borne illness.
UN officials caution that Gaza’s crumbling infrastructure cannot withstand another round of intensive clashes, putting civilians at heightened risk as both sides continue exchanging fire. They urge immediate cessation of hostilities before Gaza descends into an irrecoverable humanitarian emergency.
International Pressure Mounts to End Crisis
The growing crisis in Gaza is sounding alarm bells globally even as efforts ramp up to halt the bloodshed. Human rights groups and humanitarian organizations continue urging restraint while calling for unfettered access to provide aid.
On January 4th, U.S President Joe Biden publicly pressed Israel to strive for de-escalation despite defending its right to self-defense against militant attacks. Earlier attempts by Egyptian mediators to broker a ceasefire have so far been unsuccessful.
Inside Gaza, ordinary citizens long trapped in endless cycles of violence plead for relief. “All we think about is surviving because we want the bread back in our lives,” said Um Mohammed, a mother struggling to feed her family. “Everyone stands helpless before the weapons and dead bodies…How long must we keep weeping over our martyrs?”
With over 15 years of recurrent conflicts pummeling its basic infrastructure and economy, Gaza verges closer than ever to the brink of collapse. As the UN makes clear, if the latest crisis is not urgently resolved, the beleaguered territory and its millions of trapped civilians could soon face irreparable catastrophe.
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