You’re probably feeling anxious and fearful because of COVID-19. We all are.
But imagine you lived in one of the most crowded places on earth with no access to clean water or expert medical care?
People across the developing world are at risk from COVID-19, but few more so than the people trapped in beleaguered Gaza.
The first two cases were detected in Gaza on March 21st.
There are currently 91 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza. One person has died and almost 10,000 people are under quarantine.
There are three reasons why we are particularly worried about this:
- Gaza is one of the most crowded places on earth. Two million people live in an area roughly half the size of Co. Louth. Many of these people live side-by-side in high density housing. Social distancing is not possible, meaning the virus could spread rapidly.
- People do not have access to clean water to wash their hands. Gaza’s only coastal aquifer supplies almost all running water to Gaza’s 2 million people. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation, 97 per cent of water produced by the aquifer is unfit for human consumption. With no tap water, people in Gaza have to buy tanks of desalinated water. But this water is expensive and there is only so much of it impoverished families can afford.
- People who do get sick will not have access to the healthcare they need. Gaza’s healthcare is already crumbling, largely due to an 11-year blockade. There are only around 70 intensive care beds and 50 ventilators in Gaza. Doctors lack protective gear. If COVID-19 takes hold in Gaza, its hospitals will become overwhelmed very quickly.
Many countries, including Ireland, are facing an unprecedented crisis due to the Coronavirus. Countries with some of the best health systems in the world – Italy, Germany, France – are struggling to cope. If this virus takes hold in somewhere like Gaza, it could rip through the population and cause untold devastation.
Even without the Coronavirus, Gaza exists in a permanent state of humanitarian crisis. Around 80 per cent of people are reliant on international aid for survival. The unemployment rate is around 50 per cent.
There are few places in the world where people are less equipped to deal with the impending onslaught of COVID-19.
Preventative action is being taken to protect Palestinians. Anybody who enters Gaza is being placed into a 14 day quarantine. People in the West Bank have been told to leave their homes only for food or essential medicine. Palestinians are used to living under military occupation and will adjust to these restrictions on movement easier than many of us.
But much more needs to be done. Legally, Israel is the occupying power in both the West Bank and Gaza. It has a legal obligation to ensure people living in Gaza and the West Bank have the medical care and supplies they will need in the weeks and months ahead.
It also has an obligation to ensure anybody in Gaza who can’t avail of the treatment they need is provided with immediate and unhindered access to Israel or the West Bank to receive that care.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for all conflicts worldwide to be suspended while the world tackles the common enemy of COVID-19. This spirit must become evident in Israel and Palestine. Both people are facing the same crisis.
As Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation said, “none of us are safe until all of us are safe”.
The Coronavirus is present in over 15 countries Trócaire works in around the world. Support our efforts to keep the world’s most vulnerable people safe.
To learn more you can read the CIDSE and ACT Alliance EU statement on the Covid 19 crisis in the Occupied Palestine Territory here.