As many residents in Gaza marked a somber start to a three-day holiday that caps the month of Ramadan, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon once again renewed his calls for leaders in Israel and the Gaza Strip to agree to a humanitarian pause in fighting.
Three weeks of violence have left many parts of the Gaza Strip in ruins. More than 1,000 Gaza residents have been killed and more than 6,000 injured. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and three civilians.
The WorldPost spoke to Rene Celaya, country director for the West Bank and Gaza for the humanitarian agency CARE International, about what it's like to live in Gaza right now. The organization has been working in the area since 1948. Celaya, who is currently stationed in Jerusalem, urged the two sides to come to a "lasting ceasefire agreement" so that humanitarian aid can be delivered.
What does life in Gaza look like today?
Gaza looks as if there’s been a massive earthquake and you’re waiting for the next aftershock. You don’t know where to go. You don’t know what is safe. Should you stay inside? Should you go outside? What building is going to crumble next?
People are living day to day, taking care of their families as best as they can. They try to find a neighbor or a family member to move to. 160,000 people moved to U.N. settlement areas.
Which doesn’t always guarantee safety, as we’ve learned in the past days.
Sadly, that is very true. There’s really nowhere safe to go, and that is one of the key challenges. With the continued restrictions [Israel has ordered evacuations for many civilians in Gaza], even less space is available. You can go to a designated U.N. shelter, but recent days have shown that’s not 100 percent safe either. It’s hard to imagine having a family and trying to figure out what to do.
What’s currently the biggest humanitarian challenge in Gaza?
The biggest challenge is the ongoing fighting. It is not possible for many humanitarian workers to actually access communities and neighborhoods that need support. The biggest challenge would be to come to a durable and lasting ceasefire agreement, so that humanitarian aid can be provided and that communities can get back to their daily lives.
The one area that CARE is focusing on is the medical area. There have been so many injuries -- over 6,000 people are injured, over 1,000 have been killed. Our partner, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, actually was able to go out to a couple of neighborhoods during the humanitarian ceasefire on Saturday and provided some services to about 128 people and another 143 on Sunday. They’ve mostly provided emergency medical first aid and medication through a mobile clinic.
While the medical area is definitely key, other sectors are in dire conditions as well: water and electricity, for example.
There have been many reports of a lack of water.
A lot of the infrastructure for water and electricity has been destroyed or suffered significant damage.
How was the situation before the fighting?
The situation was quite stark to begin with. The recent destruction has only made things worse. The water resources for Gaza are limited. Gaza did have some water processing plants, but some of those have been damaged.
How do people get water now?
That’s a day-to-day challenge now for most people in Gaza. Many people have lost their homes, so their access to water in particular depends on finding a public faucet or getting water from other neighbors that do still have water. In some parts, electricity has been reduced to two hours a day and some of the water resources depend on pumps. So the water they are currently accessing is not of good quality and certainly not enough in quantity.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.