GAZA, Palestine – “I sleep on the street, just like you found me. The situation here is unbearable,” a pregnant woman who is about to give birth told the United Nations Population Fund.
Gaza is in the midst of a devastating humanitarian and security crisis. The Gaza Strip has been under siege since hostilities with Israel began to escalate on October 7, preventing the entry of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.
The conflict has displaced much of Gaza’s population and caused severe material shortages, which has had a severe impact on women and girls. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said overcrowding in Gaza shelters, heightened tensions and breakdowns in services and protection mechanisms have led to increased risks related to gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, 160 pregnant women are expected to give birth every day next month, with little access to medical services such as emergency obstetric care. Nearly two-thirds of clinics are unable to function, according to the World Health Organization.
UN sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA has joined multiple UN agencies in calling for a humanitarian ceasefire “while providing immediate and unrestricted humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza to enable humanitarian actors to reach civilians in need and rescue lives and prevent further human suffering,” executive director Dr. Natalia Kanem said in a statement.
“We call for safe and sustained access to water, food, health (including sexual and reproductive health) and fuel, which are necessary to deliver basic services,” said Dr. Kanem. “Before the recent hostilities, Gaza’s The humanitarian situation is very serious. It is now catastrophic.”
Displaced and at risk
Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza have fled to hospitals, schools, churches and other shelters seeking safety. But no place is completely safe, and hospitals and camps are vulnerable to attack. Tensions are reportedly rising in temporary shelters and the risk of domestic violence is rising.
“There is no privacy, no dignity,” one woman told UNFPA about her living conditions.
While small amounts of aid have been allowed into the Gaza Strip, fuel has not been allowed, leaving hospitals and UNRWA shelters empty and jeopardizing UN relief operations.
Food and other necessities are also in short supply. Some families in Gaza are eating only one meal a day, a dangerous development, especially for pregnant women, whose nutrition can mean the difference between life and death for them and their newborns.
At the same time, Gaza’s water production capacity is only 5% of normal levels.
“We hear horrific stories about the challenges pregnant women face; some [have] Only one or two small bottles of water [a day] Dominic Allen, representative of the United Nations Population Fund in Palestine, said “the water is very salty” due to a filtration failure.
“Nowhere to go”
Since Gaza is a completely closed territory with no means of escape, escaping hostilities is nearly impossible – and with Gaza’s system broken, access to medical care is also impossible.
“These pregnant women really have nowhere to go. They face unimaginable challenges,” Mr Allen said. “Amid the chaos, some people are having to give birth in shelters, at home, and in medical facilities that are overwhelming them.”
“A woman who can be admitted to hospital must be discharged [three hours after giving birth] Make room for other pregnant women and other injured people,” he said.
Since October 7, 72 aid trucks have entered Gaza, delivering essential goods such as food, water and medical supplies. However, the volume of goods entering Gaza represents only 4% of the average daily volume of goods entering Gaza before the current crisis.
“What we need is fast, unhindered humanitarian access. We need water, food, fuel, medicines – we need aid at scale and we need to sustain it,” Mr Allen said. “Time is running out for Gazans.”