Floods in Gaza worsen grim conditions for refugees in tent cities

Another humanitarian crisis looms as rain swamps streets and sweeps through shelters

Floodwater breached tents, soaking the belongings of displaced people at a camp in Rafah, in southern Gaza. AFP
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Floods in Gaza are blocking roads, impeding movement and hindering the work of ambulance crews as Israel’s offensive against Hamas continues to kill thousands of Palestinians.

Rescue worker Hani Abou Khossah said the rain adds to the challenges thrown up by limited resources. “There were locations we went to that were already flooded with rainwater,” he told The National.

“This makes our work all the more difficult and places the patient or injured person at risk of contracting diseases because the water is contaminated as a result of the shelling.”

Israel’s strikes and shelling have killed at least 18,800 Palestinians in the coastal enclave since the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, according to the local health authorities.

Meanwhile, more than 1.9 million people are believed to have been displaced in the past two months, with many fleeing to Rafah, near the Egyptian border, as Israeli forces fight Hamas.

“We fear for our lives, and we fear for our patients at the same time. There are locations we cannot reach because of the rain, so we are forced to take a longer route, which delays our rescue mission and endangers the patient,” said Mr Abou Khossah.

After two months of relentless air strikes and fighting, the damage to infrastructure and the lack of effective waste management have aggravated the humanitarian conditions. Local authorities are warning of rodent and insect infestations.

But as heavy wind and torrential rain flooded streets and uprooted makeshift tents, another humanitarian crisis looms: the spread of waterborne diseases.

“We are living in a tragic situation caused by the rain. We were displaced from Gaza city in difficult weather conditions,” said Bassma Hannouna, a displaced Palestinian in the southern city of Khan Younis.

“We live in tents and have no other shelter to protect us. We couldn’t even cook food outdoors for our children because the rain was putting out the fire, our only source of energy. We don’t even have winter clothes,” she told The National.

Hannouna, who has two children, lives in a tent with her mother, husband, and one other family.

She said strong winds had damaged their tent and water flooded inside, reaching their belongings. “Our mattresses were soaked in water. We were soaked in water.”

Videos on social media showed a drenched young Palestinian struggling to carry a small body wrapped in a shroud through flooded streets where the water was above knee-high.

Others frantically tried to mop water out of their makeshift tents. At the same time, ambulances were stuck in the flood as paramedics, half-submerged in water, moved a patient.

Gaza has suffered floods in recent years, especially at the beginning of winter in 2021 and 2022. They have been worsened by the absence of proper infrastructure, a limited power supply, and damaged sewerage and drainage networks.

Riad Hamad, who was moved with his family from Beit Hanoun, north Gaza, and has been staying in a tent in Khan Younis for the past 65 days, said the aid he is getting is inadequate.

“We have been asking for more aid and more tents. But no one is listening,” he said.

“The wood is too expensive, and we have no money. I am burning paper to cook,” he said as he placed pieces of paper in a small, tin makeshift stove heating a pot of lentil soup.

“We are suffering. The situation is tough. The rain muddies the ground, and we don’t have water to wash up. We have to go to the hospital and wait for more than an hour in line to get a gallon of water,” he added.

This article is published in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 5:33 AM