The Gaza Strip, the small enclave that sees Israel to the north and east of it and that forms part of the occupied Palestine territories (oPt), has been subject to a blockade since 2006, which is facilitated at the border with Egypt. The Hamas controlled area has also more recently been subject to punitive measures by the Palestinian Authority.
While it affects almost all parts of life there is currently a particular urgency to the impact to the health sector which has received a hit when it comes to medicine, medical supplies, lab equipment and blood supply, which is devastating for patients in both accident and emergency situations as well as those suffering from serious diseases.
If medical equipment breaks or becomes obsolete, there is no way to fix it, power cuts from electricity cuts imposed by the PA prevent hospital machines from operating and generators also need spare parts and fuel also lacking in Gaza.
While many patients used to travel outside Gaza for surgery, this option has also diminished for many because of the closure of the Rafah border for long periods of time and exit permits have been in decline.
Past offensives that have resulted in medical facilities being hit has meant that a number of hospitals were irreparable due to construction materials being inadmissible to the country. This has overloaded other facilities. However, as of February 2018, 19 health centres had reportedly closed down because they could not run their electricity generators including major facilities Beit Hanoun Hospital and Al-Durra.
The withholding of salaries by the PA has also hit workers in the health sector. On the brink of collapse, humanitarian actors have taken some action help fund the health sector in Gaza but it needs greater attention from the international community at large.
Focused alleviation of the healthcare crisis
There needs to be a two-fold commitment by the international community:
- An estimated $6.5 million is needed in 2018 to provide emergency fuel to prevent collapse. This requires urgent funding from international donors.
- Political action is required to end the Gaza blockade, which has been ongoing since 2006.
According to theUN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA) oPt on 6 February, without support emergency fuel for the most critical services will run out in as little as 10 days. The emergency fuel would enable minimum life-saving health, water and sanitation services.However, for the full functioning of critical services, OCHA estimated the need for $10 million per year and this requires international donor support.
A more sustainable solution however is for the Gaza siege to be completely lifted. This is not only pertinent for the health sector but it is necessary for Gazans to escape poverty by opening the borders and allowing imports and exports to restore its economy and development.
As the occupying state, it is primarily Israel’s responsibility to end the blockade. The siege is a violation of international law. The purpose of the siege has been stated as for reasons of security and to keep out dangerous materials, which could be then used against Israel. However, the measures amount to collective punishment as well as amounting to a breach of fundamental economic and social rights.
Individual states can place pressure on Israel to abide by international law and lift this blockade on Gaza as well as on the PA to refrain from punitive measures.
The siege on Gaza intensified after Hamas gained control of the territory in 2006. Various parts of the international community have had difficulty accepting Hamas as an international political player. However, the party was elected through a democratic process. Therefore, states must accept Hamas as the legitimate government of Gaza and continue relations with it in order to facilitate lasting measures to end the suffering of those who live there.