Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in Gaza as Fighting Drives Mass Displacement

Smoke is seen during an Israeli bombardment of Gaza on Monday. (Senna Fadel/AFP/Getty Images)

In a rapidly deteriorating situation, approximately 200,000 Palestinians have fled from northern Gaza to the already struggling southern regions, exacerbating a growing humanitarian crisis. This mass movement, reported by a U.N. agency, comes amid intense battles between Israeli troops and hamas militants, significantly impacting hospitals and medical facilities.

Critical Situation in Hospitals

The U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) has indicated that only one hospital in the north remains functional, leaving the largest hospital in Gaza, Shifa, surrounded by Israeli troops and unable to operate effectively. The situation at Shifa is particularly alarming, with patients and newborns at risk due to lack of electricity and supplies. The Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled area has proposed evacuating Shifa under the supervision of the Red Cross.

Palestinians look for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Escalating War and Its Impact

Now in its sixth week, the war was triggered by a surprise attack by Hamas into Israel, leading to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the capture of hostages. This conflict has resulted in thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties and widespread destruction in Gaza. Israeli forces continue to conduct airstrikes throughout Gaza, targeting what they claim are militant positions, but often resulting in civilian deaths, including women and children.

A wounded Palestinian baby receives treatment at the al-Shifa hospital, following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Oct. 23, 2023. Gaza’s Shifa Hospital has become the focus of a days-long stalemate in Israel’s war against Hamas.

Living Conditions Deteriorate

The U.N. reports severe overcrowding in shelters in the south, with limited sanitation facilities. Over 1.5 million Palestinians, more than two-thirds of Gaza’s population, have been displaced. Essential resources like bread, water, and fuel are scarce, severely impacting daily life and health services. The blockade of fuel imports by Israel, citing potential military use by Hamas, has led to a breakdown in water systems and increasing sanitation issues.

Plight of Hospitals and Response

Both Israel and Hamas have focused on the plight of hospitals. Israel accuses Hamas of using these facilities for military purposes, a claim denied by Hamas and Shifa Hospital staff. The Health Ministry has invited international organizations to investigate these allegations. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry reports that due to fuel shortages, critical services like incubators for newborns are non-operational, posing a severe risk to infant patients.

Babies that were previously in incubators have been moved to beds in a surgical ward, after a lack of electricity forced the neonatal unit to shut down. Reuters

International and Local Responses

Christian Lindmeier of the World Health Organization emphasized that the only viable solution to save the newborns is to evacuate them from Gaza, requiring specialized equipment and a ceasefire. The Red Cross has attempted to evacuate thousands from other hospitals but faced obstacles due to ongoing shelling and fighting.

Broader Impact and Casualties

As of last Friday, over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, with the Health Ministry noting that this figure includes women and minors but does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths. On the Israeli side, there have been at least 1,200 deaths, mostly civilians. The conflict has also heightened tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, leading to additional casualties.