Public health disaster looms in Gaza

On Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza warned of an impending 'public health disaster'. In a press release on the organization's Web site ), the Ministry states that the situation could include the death of hundreds of people, including cancer patients, those with tumors, and those in need of both kidney dialysis and intensive care.

Gaza War

Gaza's long-suffering has increased exponentially since Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, when Israel launched air attacks on Gaza in response to rocket and mortar fire by Hamas. The incident was preceded by an Israeli incursion into Gaza in November 2008 "to destroy what Israel said was a tunnel on the Gaza-Israel border dug by militants to infiltrate into Israel and abduct soldiers." (Source: Wikipedia )

Oxfam reports that the offensive brought Gaza's infrastructure to the brink of collapse. Most of the 1.5 million inhabitants were already vulnerable from Israel's previously existing blockade of the territory. Approximately 80 percent of Gaza families were already receiving some form of humanitarian assistance before the conflict began, which was severely disrupted as a result. (Source: Oxfam: Gaza Stip, A Humanitarian Implosion )

Israeli Blockade

A Wikileaks cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in 2008 reveals that Israeli officials wanted Gaza's economy "functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis." US state cables show the pressure brought on Egypt's new vice president to close Gaza's 'feeding tube' tunnels.

The extreme restrictions on the movement of people and goods has created severe shortages in fuel and medical supplies. The lack of fuel has left hospitals without electricity to "keep lifesaving equipment working or to generate oxygen, while 40-50 million litres of sewage continues to pour into the sea daily." (Source: Oxfam: Gaza Stip, A Humanitarian Implosion ).

De-development in Gaza

In Dec 2010, Oxfam remarks that while the blockade may exists as a security measure for Israel, the growing devastation to Gaza's public health, education, water, and sanitation runs counter to the basic human rights of the Palestinians living there:

"For Israel, the blockade is a security measure - as is the so-called buffer zone on the inner perimeter of Gaza. But seeing the reality of 'de-development' on the ground (with social and economic structures and standards of living jumping backwards), it's hard to see how effectively locking up a whole population within a small territory and blocking the means whereby the economy can grow and prosper within that territory can promote security or meet any basic human rights or international humanitarian law criteria." (Source: Oxfam: De-Development in Gaza )

Human Rights Issue

The EU and international agencies have called the Israeli measures 'collective punishment', which is banned under the Geneva Conventions. (Source: National Post )

Human Rights Watch also regards the exacerbated crisis in Gaza with the same lens. Their May 2010 report emphasizes the responsibility that 'occupying powers' have Under Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which places duties on an occupying power to ensure food and medical supplies to the population, and to permit and facilitate the provision of humanitarian relief.

The report continues:

"These obligations also apply to specific Israeli forces wherever in Gaza they exercise effective control. Israel's continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip, a measure that is depriving its population of food, fuel, and other necessities, constitutes a form of collective punishment in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention."

Fatah vs. Hamas

The continued delay of supply shipments this month that were promised by the Health Ministry in Ramallah, which is run by the Palistinian Authority, has exacerbated the existing deprivation of Gaza inhabitants, according to the Palestinian News Network (PNN): "The health ministry [in Gaza] says it ran out of 170 kinds of medicine and 140 kinds of medical supplies."

According to Abna.ir ) , "The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has refused to answer to appeals by interveners to resolve the more than month long crisis and release essential medicines it was withholding from Gaza." According the a statement by the Health Ministry in Gaza, the organization has reached out the the World Health Organization and other international parties to search for a solution to the worsening crisis.

"Gaza is currently lacking about 40 percent of basic medicines, the Hamas Health Minister, Bassem Naim, said in January, accusing the Palestinian Authority of withholding key stocks." The charge was rejected by his Fatah counterpart, Fathi Abu Mughli, who said the shortages were a result of "mismanagement." (Source: Asharq Alawsat ) )

The Hamas Health Minister told AFP, that "The health situation in Gaza is very difficult, if there is any new Israeli war the situation will be catastrophic," , saying the health services were missing 182 out of 450 basic types of medicine. (Source: Asharq Alawsat ) )

Alexa O'Brien Alexa O'Brien researches and writes about national security. Her work has been published in VICE News, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Guardian UK, Salon, The Daily Beast, and featured on the BBC, PBS Frontline, On The Media, Democracy Now!, and Public Radio International. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in the UK and listed in The Verge 50..
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