Palestinian families endure 11 days of conflict in Gaza

NEW YORK, USA, 6 January 2009 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza to enable humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to the thousands of civilians flooding into hospitals and clinics in the territory.

Eleven days after aerial bombardments began, Gaza is now divided into two sections. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City – where hundreds had taken shelter – was bombed yesterday, resulting in fatalities and injuries.

Meanwhile, there is no electricity in 75 per cent of Gaza, posing a particular problem for medical facilities. Over half a million Gazans have no running water, and the lack of electricity has paralyzed sewage treatment plants, increasing the risk of water-borne disease.

‘No words to describe it’

The United Nations has called the situation a humanitarian crisis.

"Right now the situation in Gaza is very bad. There are no words to describe it," said Reem, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl, in a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio.

"We live on the first floor [of our home] and four other families are living here who escaped the fighting in the border areas," she added. "We have 35 people living in the house, including kids, elderly people, women, men. This is what life is like for most houses in Gaza now."

Food supplies, frayed nerves

Although most UN food distribution centres are open, insecurity has blocked access to food supplies for many families in Gaza.

"We live on canned food," said Reem. "There's no gas. There's no electricity to make the bread. So kids are forced to go out in the morning and line up in front of the bakery to get one or two bags of bread."

The Bakery Owners Association in Gaza says its members are also running out of fuel because the conflict has cut off access to their storage facilities.

Reem noted that 11 days in sequestration had begun to fray her nerves.

"Today, it's sunny and nice, and the kids and adults, they go up on the roof – they get bored being inside the house," she said. "But we have a neighbour with two kids who are 15 and 16, and they went to play on the roof and they got hit when a plane came. So it's not even safe on the roof."