Lack of food and water a major threat to people in Gaza

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RS363181_Oct 19_ Rana. Families taking refuge in Schools in Gaza-lpr
Rana al-Attar has a photo on her phone of the neighborhood where she and her family normally live in Gaza – it has been destroyed in the conflict and they are now seeking shelter at a school in southern Gaza. Marwan Sawwaf/ Alef Multimedia/ Oxfam

Oxfam is calling for a ceasefire and the restoration of basic services to help civilians caught in the conflict.

“We went to sleep peacefully, and were awakened by the sound of bombing,” Rana al-Attar says, recounting the story of how she and her husband and three girls now find themselves sleeping in a school classroom.

“We were frightened,” she says. “The house was shaking, it was truly terrible.” The family made their way to the Deir Al Balah Secondary School in southern Gaza, along with somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 others. “My daughters used to sleep in their own beds, and now, 70 people sleep in one classroom,” al-Attar says, adding that there is not adequate drinking water for all the people at the school. “The drinking water is contaminated, and we have no choice but to drink it.”

After 17 days of attacks in Israel and the intense bombing and complete siege of Gaza, as many as 1.4 million people have been displaced and are seeking shelter wherever they can find it. Tens of thousands are dead and wounded, most of them women and children. Survivors have little to no water, food, or fuel and virtually nothing is coming in. Hospitals are either closed, or lack electricity to help people seeking care and safety. Lack of fuel and electricity has shut off the water supply and sewage treatment facilities, raising the risk of disease.

Humanitarian crisis in Gaza

Oxfam has called for the immediate release of hostages, a ceasefire, basic services to be restored, and humanitarian assistance and fuel to be allowed into Gaza. People in Gaza need emergency shelters to repair their homes before the winter and cash to buy food and essential items. They desperately need water. All sewage and sanitation facilities need emergency repair. People need protection and psychological support and medicine.

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Rana al-Attar and her family are sleeping in this science lab classroom along with other families. Marwan Sawwaf/Alef Multi Media/Oxfam

With just two percent of the normal amount of food being delivered to Gaza since the complete siege was imposed and food production facilities unable to function, food is becoming much more scarce. “There can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war,” Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s director in the Middle East region says in a statement.

Despite the challenges of providing assistance to people in the middle of a conflict, Oxfam has distributed cash to 189 families (more than 1,000 individuals). One of the partners we are working with in Gaza, the Culture and Free Thought Association, provided cash to an additional 228 families. With assistance from Oxfam, the Palestine Medical Relief Society distributed 400 hygiene kits to displaced people in southern Gaza. Oxfam also procured 1,000 food kits which were distributed by the Culture and Free Thought Association (in collaboration with Al Bayader and Palestinian Environmental Friends) in informal shelters in Rafah and Khan Younis.

Safety for civilians most important

At the Deir Al Balah Secondary School, Rana al-Attah looks at photos on her phone. “That’s our neighborhood,” she says. The area in the photo appears to be completely destroyed. “Some people told us our house was bombed,” al-Attah says, sadly, but adds that “the house will be rebuilt.”

Like all Palestinians in Gaza, al-Attah and her family want the fighting to end so they can go home. “I really want to return home. I don't feel comfortable here, no one does,” she says, also acknowledging that “our safety is more important.”

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