The four-day humanitarian pause which came into effect yesterday will do little to improve the dire conditions being endured by 2.3million people in Gaza. While, after seven weeks of near-constant airstrikes, any break in the fighting is to be welcomed, it will be impossible to carry out significant humanitarian work or provide anything more than limited short-term relief in such a narrow timeframe. During the pause, 200 truckloads of aid will be allowed to enter Gaza each day, but this is a drop in the ocean compared to what is urgently required. The deliveries will include 130,000 litres of fuel each day, yet UNRWA says it needs at least 160,000 per day just to keep basic humanitarian operations running. Since the crisis began on October 7, only 1,479 trucks of aid (excluding the recent, very limited, deliveries of fuel) have entered the territory – just a fraction of the 10,000 truckloads it would have received on average per month previously.
Winter has arrived in Gaza and people urgently need warm clothes, blankets, and tents, as well as food, clean water, medical supplies, and hygiene products.
Sana*, a mother who has been displaced to the south of Gaza, said:
“We came to the school to find a mattress, blanket, or anything to cover ourselves with. We did not find any of this. We slept on the floor. We arrived after a whole night without sleep and without dinner or breakfast; the children fell asleep hungry. We sleep without pillows and without blankets. The one blanket we have we put on the children.’
“Cold and rain are upon us, and there is no fresh water. At night, the children also had diarrhea because of the cold weather. Here we can’t find food to feed the children. We go to the market and are surprised by the prices. They are unimaginable.”
Ghaith*, a humanitarian worker based in southern Gaza, said:
“Now that winter is coming, the reality of what we’re facing is getting worse. Children have nothing to sleep on, and no covers to shelter them from the cold. Those who are displaced from northern Gaza to the south suffered really difficult circumstances under heavy rain in the past week. People are living in tents which do not shelter them from the cold, tents that are prone to falling apart and drowning under rain showers.”
Over the last few weeks, ActionAid has been able to distribute some aid in Gaza, despite significant challenges. Supplies in the local market are extremely limited and come at very high prices, and some items – such as mattresses – are not available at all. While some warehouses have supplies, accessing them is difficult and dangerous due to fuel shortages and the ever-present threat of airstrikes. Despite this, our work has included handing out hot meals and winter clothes to displaced people in the Rafah area; distributing first aid kits and medication for pregnant women in Khan Younis; providing cash assistance to households; and providing food kits and hygiene kits.
During the four-day pause, we hope to be able to distribute hygiene kits, dignity kits, and winterization kits via three local partners working on the ground, however, our efforts will depend on the availability of supplies and fuel to transport them. None of this aid will be able to reach people in desperate need in the north of Gaza, which has been largely cut off.
While the biggest priority right now is seeing to people’s urgent, immediate needs, there is also much work to be done to rebuild and repair vital infrastructure. More than 50% of Gaza’s housing units have been destroyed in the last seven weeks, according to local officials. Roads, hospitals, schools, bakeries, and wheat mills have been heavily damaged or in some cases destroyed. But a four-day window is not nearly enough time for this long-term work to begin.
Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine said: “Four days will barely be enough time for the people of Gaza to catch their breath before the bombardment restarts and, yet again, they will be forced to wonder whether they and their families will survive the day. While we will be working non-stop over the next few days to provide as much assistance as we possibly can, there’s no doubt it will be a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed. We need a permanent ceasefire now, so that aid on the scale required can be allowed to reach those in need. We can only hope that with this four-day pause comes the recognition that bombs must not be allowed to fall again.”