Gaza – ‘It is frustrating, and heart-breaking, to have to watch and wait,’ says ShelterBox CEO

Gaza March 2009. ShelterBox has previously deployed aid to help families in Gaza. (Mark Pearson/ShelterBox).

Gaza March 2009. ShelterBox has previously deployed aid to help families in Gaza. (Mark Pearson/ShelterBox).

The world watches in disbelief as civilian casualties increase daily in the conflict between Israeli and Palestinian militants. ShelterBox last helped in this war-torn area in 2009, and is now on standby to provide aid once circumstances allow. 

Gaza City, as can be seen in constant news reports, is one of the most dangerous battle zones in the world at present. ShelterBox is in constant contact with numerous agencies on the ground, including the lead coordinating shelter organisation.

At present humanitarian agencies are finding it difficult to get any aid into the area, given the risk to aid workers and the tight border controls. Among aid priorities is the supply of medicines to Gaza’s over-stretched hospitals, and water supplies to UN shelters. Health services are often overwhelmed, especially following the frequent air and missile strikes. Gaza’s sole power plant has been damaged, so much of the city is without electricity.

ShelterBox Chief Executive Alison Wallace says, ‘It is frustrating, and heart-breaking, to have to watch and wait, but the shelter we offer is not currently appropriate to the needs of families and communities caught in the cross-fire. Our Operations Department is continually monitoring the situation through a number of channels, including multiple sources on the ground.’

‘As soon as a shelter need is identified that we can meet, we are poised to help the many thousands of people who have been displaced by the violence. Everyone is hoping that diplomatic efforts succeed in achieving a lasting cease-fire, so the humanitarian aid community can safely reach these desperate families.’

Over 250,000 people have quit their homes as a result of the fighting according to the UN – ten per cent of the population of Gaza. The branch of the UN that provides relief and human services to Palestinian refugees, the UNRWA, says it has exhausted its absorption capacity in Gaza City and northern Gaza, while overcrowding at its shelters is raising concerns about the outbreak of epidemics.

Palestinian officials now say 1,156 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting since 8 July. Some 6,700 have been injured. Israel has lost 53 soldiers and three civilians. There is international outrage at the numbers of children killed or injured. The UN estimates that 185 children have been killed, and over 1,000 injured so far, with 150,000 forced to flee their homes.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Phil Duloy says, ‘We have made our partner agencies aware of our willingness to contribute to the response, should what we can offer become appropriate in time.’

Access constraints are also a major factor for aid agencies. There are limitations on the movement of cargo, whether by air or road. ShelterBox is active elsewhere in the Middle East, with partners currently distributing in Iraq to some of the 1.2 million people displaced by the advance of armed opposition groups in the central areas of the country. We are also supplying relief materials to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and internally displaced Syrian people in the north east of the country. ShelterBox last deployed to Gaza in 2009, supplying almost 600 tents to families displaced by conflict, at the time the longest solo deployment in ShelterBox’s history.

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