Gaza crisis: Q&A on CARE’s emergency response

A young girl is treated by staff from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society © CARE / Alison Baskerville

Q&A on CARE's emergency response in Gaza with Rene Celaya, Country Director for CARE International West Bank Gaza

What help are CARE and our partner Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) providing to civilians in Gaza?

Our PMRS colleagues are driving or walking to wherever they are able to reach, to provide emergency first aid and any other medical support they are able to do under very limited time and with limited materials. With CARE's suport they have treated over 200 people in the al-Shijaeya neighbourhood and the Alfalah School, a shelter for displaced people run by the United Nations (UNRWA). They delivered basic antenatal care, provided an 8-year-old girl with a wheelchair, and came across high numbers of diarrhoea and skin diseases due to crowding and poor hygiene.

With support from CARE, and as soon as security conditions permit, PMRS will treat about 20,000 patients (an average of 80 patients per day, six days a week) the majority of who will likely be women.

When the situation allows CARE is planning to distribute hygiene kits to 13,000 people. These contain important basics like nappies, sanitary pads, disinfectant wipes and soap. We will also provide support to help 1,800 farming households to re-establish their livelihood and get back on their feet. These small-holder farmers cannot currently access their plots, and the condition of these plots is uncertain. Even if the land is made accessible in terms of security, there is a huge challenge of clean-up, removing debris, and possibly unexploded ordinances.

How is the medical team coping? Are they able to withstand the number of casualties?

They have increased some of their capacity but all medical services in Gaza are overwhelmed and are not able to treat the continuously growing number of casualties. With the destruction of the main power plant in Gaza, hospitals face even more problems because of lack of electricity and water.

What conditions are the CARE staff trapped in Gaza experiencing?

They are coping as best they can. Some colleagues have lost their homes, neighbours, friends and extended family members. There is nowhere safe in Gaza so they do the best they can to find shelter and hope it is safe.

What is the feeling in the Jerusalem and West Bank offices?

Colleagues are primarily concerned for the wellbeing of friends, family and colleagues. Staff are anxious to be able to do something to support the people of Gaza, but the security situation limits all efforts locally and from West Bank. Communication is a major challenge, the cell phone network is not reliable and without electricity, cell phone batteries cannot be charged. We try to keep the communication lines up and running, but sometimes, hours go by without us being able to reach our staff in Gaza. This is quite worrisome.

What are your key concerns for the citizens of Gaza?

Safety and Security - a lasting ceasefire must be established now. All that people want is dignity. They just want to be able to live and take care of their families. The prolonged conflict is much worse this time than the last escalation of violence in 2012.

The emergency response will prove to be especially difficult as a result of the destruction of the main power plant in Gaza. Many people now rely on electric pumps for water. This is true for hospitals too, but some have backup generators powered by fuel. However, fuel is not easy to purchase in Gaza. Basically, everything is scarce now and everyone fears for their life.

The devastation to the infrastructure means that the humanitarian situation will be long-lasting - rebuilding a power plant will take several months or up to a year. Illnesses will spread in the current conditions and re-establishing homes will also take a very long time. CARE is very worried about the damage to the water infrastructure. This causes serious health risks for the population.

How will the international community help support with basic needs after the ceasefire?

We will work together with the United Nations and other agencies to help to provide for basic needs such as shelter, food, water, and much needed medical support. The tremendous destruction of infrastructure in Gaza will set a new reality of basic humanitarian needs.

Donations from the public will help us meet some of the urgent needs, but also provide support in the long term when the TV cameras have gone and people need to re-build their lives after the devastation.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.