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Save the Children representative living in Gaza: Column

Save the Children representative living in Gaza: Column

by Osama Damo
August 5, 2014

My heart sank when the 72 hour ceasefire ended after just 90 minutes last Friday. It plumbed new depths when a missile struck outside another school on Sunday killing at least ten people.

I am determined to stay strong for the children of Gaza, however I admit that hope for the future fades with every bomb and rocket strike.

The long sleepless nights I’ve spent listening to buildings destroyed by missiles and shells have been terrifying, but I am equally worried about the future of Gaza when the fighting stops.

Gaza – where before this conflict 80 percent of the population relied on foreign aid – is in ruin. Every attack pushes its people deeper into a life of poverty and loss.

Israel has been attacked too, but its missile defence system has thwarted nearly every rocket sent its way.

This week marks one month since the first missiles were launched, and more than two weeks since the ground offensive began. The death toll stands at more than 1,800, including over 1,000 civilians and 350 children.

How many more days the fighting will last, nobody knows.

Before the conflict Gaza was stymied by the blockade – its fishing zone had been progressively reduced from 20 miles to three miles over the past 20 years, borders were closed meaning building materials could not enter making construction impossible, and imports and exports have been severely restricted.

Recent air strikes on Gaza’s sole power plant and the water network mean families are facing a complete collapse of essential services, as electricity and water supplies run out.

Health facilities are also badly affected, with some hospitals warning they only have enough fuel to run electricity generators for another four to five days.

This could leave nearly one million children trapped in a war zone without access to electricity, water or medical services.

Residents are receiving electricity for a maximum of two hours a day, if at all. I haven’t had electricity for five days now. No water supplies are being delivered and sewage pumps are not working, meaning raw sewage is being pumped onto the streets, raising serious concerns about outbreaks of disease in overcrowded shelters.

When the fighting stops work will begin rebuilding a shattered city. But where do you start?

There are still badly damaged buildings awaiting repair from the 2012 military offensive, and homes destroyed during the 2009 conflict that are yet to be rebuilt.

Gaza was still in recovery mode when this round of fighting erupted.

The job for aid agencies will be massive, arguably without compare. For Save the Children it will range from rehabilitating damaged kindergartens and training teachers in psychosocial support for students to helping patch up hospitals, repairing key infrastructure and child protection services.

And all this before attempting to address the poverty that plagued Gaza before the conflict. Creating employment, livelihoods and civil society. Making Gaza sustainable.

None of this will be possible while the blockade stands – ending it must be part of the solution.

For many, however, life in Gaza will never return to normal. Their homes have been destroyed, livelihoods expunged and their friends and family members killed. How do you come back from that?

What I do know is that the international community must strenuously push for a new ceasefire and find a way to get all parties to uphold it.

At the very least the living must have the chance to bury the dead and see what’s left of their homes. Meanwhile aid agencies must be able to safely help the sick and injured as well as get essential services up and running.

After that, we need a lasting peace agreement including an end to the blockade so Gaza can begin to rebuild.

This is the third conflict between Gaza and Israel I have lived through, and it’s by far the worst. In Gaza there has been too much loss of life, and also on the Israeli side. It must end, it has to end now.

In the past 30 days I have left my apartment five times – twice during the two failed ceasefires to help with aid distributions with Save the Children and three times to get food for my family.

I live in an apartment with my wife and mother, but some nights we had up to 18 people taking shelter including five children.

We sleep in the corridors where the building is strongest and jump at the slightest of sounds. The other day my wife put a bottle of water down loudly and I ducked for cover, thinking it was another air strike.

Another time we heard a loud whistling noise and ran to the corridor, only to realise it was a car with a high-pitched engine going past.

I have feared for my life too many times.

Let the bloodshed and fighting stop on both sides so we can at least begin the task of rebuilding Gaza.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world, wherever there is need. The above piece reflects the opinions of the staff member quoted, reflecting his perceptions from living and working on the ground in Gaza. Save the Children is currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. As a global organisation, Save the Children is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza, and supports an end to the violence against both peoples.

ENDS

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