Palestinians struggle to survive conflict and Israel’s complete siege of Gaza

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Palestinian people from northern parts of the Gaza Strip are seeking shelter in this tent city in Al-Mawasi in southern Gaza. Alef Multimedia Company/Oxfam

Oxfam’s partners are delivering assistance to people enduring an ongoing humanitarian crisis and threat of famine.

Three months of armed conflict and a complete collapse of health and sanitation systems have created an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. More than 22,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the majority of whom are women and children, have been killed since October 7, 2023. Around 85 percent of the population is currently displaced, and nearly 2.3 million people lack consistent access to food and clean water.

In Israel, families continue to await the return of 136 hostages seized by Hamas on October 7. Oxfam does not work in Israel but is demanding their immediate and unconditional return.

Lack of proper sanitation, food, and other humanitarian assistance has created the conditions for famine in Gaza, and the risk is “increasing each day that the current situation of intense hostilities and restricted humanitarian access persists or worsens,” according to an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which monitors food security.

The IPC analysis estimates that 90 percent of people in Gaza face “high levels of acute food insecurity, which represents the “highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country.”

“Anyone paying attention cannot be surprised by these figures after months of complete siege, denial of humanitarian aid, and destruction of residential neighborhoods, bakeries, mills, farms, and other infrastructure essential for food and water production,” said Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman said.

Since the conflict in Israel and Gaza began in October 2023, Oxfam has been advocating for an end to the siege of Gaza, full humanitarian access, and the safe return of hostages. Oxfam staff in the U.S. are urging the Biden administration to use its influence to achieve an immediate ceasefire to allow for the safe return of hostages to Israel, and for aid and commercial goods to enter Gaza so Oxfam and our partners can save lives.

Seeking shelter, food, sanitation

People caught in the conflict, including Oxfam staff based in Gaza, are sharing how difficult conditions are. “Each time an airstrike hits, I feel the ground shake beneath me,” one Oxfam staff member told colleagues in late December 2023. “Indiscriminate artillery shells are also dangerously close to us, and our house has been hit three times…. I constantly worry about the consequences if I were to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, fearing that I would be torn apart.”

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With communal sanitation for displaced people either non-existent or inadequate, this man built a latrine near the tent where his family is seeking shelter in Rafah, southern Gaza. Alef Multimedia Company/Oxfam

Such dangers are pushing civilians into areas of southern Gaza where they are seeking shelter in schools and in tent cities--but they are still finding conditions to be dangerous. One young man in the Al-Mawasi section of western Khan Yunis put up a tent to shelter his extended family of 12 after they fled their destroyed home in the northern part of the Gaza Strip in November. “Good people helped,” he said, “and we supported each other.”

But he says Al-Mawasi is not safe, despite what displaced people are being told. He hears fighting nearby, and says the area has “no electricity, no clean water to drink.” All of his family members got sick with stomach flu and diarrhea the first two weeks they were in this camp. “Things are deteriorating in terms of both security and nutrition,” he says. “Without food, people will die of malnutrition before they die because of violence.”

Another man brought his family to Rafah in southern Gaza and says the sanitary conditions are terrible. “Life here is miserable; there’s no water, no hygiene,” he told Oxfam. “They installed communal bathrooms far away from here, and they were really dirty. So, I decided to build my own bathroom.”

Providing aid in a war zone

The ongoing conflict is making delivery of humanitarian assistance nearly impossible. The total siege and limited access to Gaza means very little food, medical aid, water, fuel, and other essentials are available.

Despite these challenges, Oxfam’s partners are assisting people in southern Gaza. With resources from Oxfam, they are distributing cash, locally sourced fruit and vegetables, winter clothing, blankets, hygiene items like soap, and menstrual products for women and girls. So far, Oxfam partners have reached 73,871 people since early October with humanitarian assistance despite the nearly impossible operating environment in Gaza.

Aid delivered by Oxfam partners in Gaza and West Bank

  • 228 Families received cash
  • 6,950 Fresh vegetable baskets
  • 1,000 Food parcels
  • 2,618 Family hygiene kits
  • 500 Mother and new baby kits
  • 1,100 Shelter items (including blankets & mattresses)
  • 360 Winterization vouchers (for warm clothes)
  • 61,270 Hot meals

Water and sanitation assistance

In the coming weeks, Oxfam and Palestinian Environment Friends (PEF) are taking steps to address the lack of water and sanitation systems in Gaza by installing wells and water treatment units to make the salty ground water in Gaza drinkable for families. They will also install water storage bladders and transport water by truck along with foldable water storage containers. The plans include building and installing 200 toilets, 128 handwashing stations, and 67 showers, complete with lighting and door-locking systems and grab rails to provide security and support for persons with additional needs. Oxfam and PEF will also distribute foldable commodes and bedpans for people living with disabilities.

Finally, we’ll continue to provide displaced people with emergency hygiene kits. The initiative intends to reach 25,600 people between January and March 2024 and will cost $2 million.

Call for immediate ceasefire

Oxfam continues to work with allies and partners to urge all parties to the conflict in Gaza to stop the fighting that is precipitating the humanitarian crisis.

Sally Abi-Khalil, Oxfam’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that “an immediate and permanent ceasefire is the only way to deliver humanitarian aid at the scale and speed urgently needed, and to end the horrendous loss of life and ensure the safe return of hostages.”

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