The situation in Gaza has reached its lowest ebb outside of periods of military attack and should now be considered a humanitarian emergency, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has today warned.
Gaza has suffered a decline of living standards since Israel’s imposition of a blockade and closure in 2007. This is now exacerbated by severe electricity shortages, with daily blackouts of 18-20 hours and many homes receiving just two hours of mains electricity per day.
Water treatment and desalination plants can only operate minimal services, and 73% of the shoreline is now dangerously polluted. In July, a five-year-old boy fell ill after swimming in the sea and became the first reported death linked to this contamination.
The ICRC recently warned of the impending “systemic collapse” of Gaza’s infrastructure and economy and of a looming “public health and environmental crisis”. Gaza’s medical system is heavily impacted. Electricity shortages necessitate significant reductions in vital hospital services, including sterilisation and cleaning. Infection rates are soaring. Diagnostic services are limited to when mains electricity is available, and voltage fluctuations have damaged sensitive medical equipment such as MRI machines.
Medical supplies are depleted. In July, the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that 40% of essential medicines and 34% of medical disposables were at ‘zero stock’ (meaning that less than a month’s supply is available) including half of all cancer drugs.
Despite the increased need, patients encounter unprecedented barriers to accessing life-saving treatment outside Gaza. In June, Israel approved permits forless than half (49.5%) of all patients seeking to exit for treatment in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or abroad. For its part, the Ministry of Health in Ramallah granted financial coverage for only 477 referrals for treatment outside of Gaza, 80% lower than the monthly average in 2016. At least 25 patients are recorded to have died so far this year after being prevented from exiting Gaza for treatment.
In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could be unlivable by 2020. For patients now unable to access the care they need inside or get out for treatment elsewhere, Gaza is already unlivable.
Aimee Shalan, CEO of MAP said: “Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian emergency, but when bombs are not falling, the international community pays little attention. Without immediate humanitarian aid and concerted political and diplomatic efforts to end the blockade, the result will be the same: avoidable loss of life and the further collapse of a health sector which is already struggling to provide the barest minimum of care.”
In June, the UN launched an urgent funding appeal for a US$25 million package of urgent lifesaving health, water and sanitation, and food security interventions to stabilise Gaza. So far, only 24% of the appeal’s funding has been raised from international donor governments.
As the occupying power, Israel has an international legal obligation to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population under its control, including access to medical care. Palestinian duty-bearers are also obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the population and ensure access to medical care without discrimination, insofar as they are able within the constraints of occupation.