Gaza underwater, Elshiek Radwan area, 15 December 2013. Photo by Mohamed Askari
15 December 2013
Large areas of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see, after the enclave experienced four days of torrential rain.
The most affected areas are some neighbourhoods of Jabalia, Beit Lahya, Gaza City, Al Mughraqa, Wadi Al Selqa and Khan Younis camp.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” says Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Programme Director in Gaza. “There is real misery and there simply isn’t the infrastructure to deal with the floods.”
Evacuating people has been extremely difficult because of the fuel shortage in Gaza. Living under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, which curbs imports of fuel, building supplies and basic goods, Gaza lacks the basic civil infrastructure to deal with extreme weather conditions.
Local residents have been building makeshift bridges with bricks and wooden planks, while emergency services have been using heavy trucks and boats to rescue those trapped by the freezing water.
A number of evacuation centres have been set up, mostly in schools. More than 4,500 people have been evacuated to centres from their homes, which were flooded with rain water or sewage. They have been given mattresses, blankets and food. Others have sought refuge with family and friends. Some 10,000 in total are reported to have been displaced from their homes.
MAP is working with local and international aid organisations to monitor and support the needs of local residents, and has made emergency blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits available.
But the problems are not only limited to the areas that have been evacuated. Many homes in Gaza are leaking and unable to cope with the rain, which has not stopped since Wednesday.
Fikr told us that her own flat was soaked with water and the generator in the building was not working. Many families spend the majority of their time wiping and trying to dry their houses and many of their carpets and mattresses are sodden.
During the storm some of the electricity networks that feed Gaza from Israel were interrupted, reducing electricity to as little as 3 hours a day. Gaza’s 1.7 million population has been enduring daily outages of 12-16 hours since the power plant closed down last month, due to the fuel shortage following the tightening of the blockade imposed by Israel with Egyptian support.
One man tweeted in the early hours of the morning, “Sleep is literally impossible in this freezing weather in Gaza. I can feel that everything is wet and dark around me.”
A 22 year old man died from smoke inhalation on Saturday after lighting a fire to warm his home. The Ministry of Health in Gaza says that around 100 people have been injured due to damage to badly built homes, accidents on flooded roads and objects falling from inundated buildings. Four people are believed to have died because of the storm.
People living in high buildings have also experienced severe shortages of water,mainly due to the lack of electricity that prevented water being pumped to the tanks on the top of the buildings.
Yesterday, boats were still working to take people from their houses and some bulldozers were also being used to transport people. Some people living on the second or third floor have remained in their homes and are using boats to go back and forwards.
“The city’s streets have started looking like a port,” says Fikr Shalltoot.
With the flood waters rising, the risk of water borne disease is a particular concern.
Under normal conditions it would be difficult to recover from this disaster. But as UNRWA spokesperson, Chris Gunness, observed, “a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this.”
The international community must bring effective pressure to ensure an immediate end to the blockade. It is the most vulnerable who are paying the price.