Follow the Mercy Corps emergency response in Gaza

Palestine (West Bank/Gaza)

September 18, 2014

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Since mid-July, when Mercy Corps launched an emergency response, our team in Gaza has been working through dangerous conditions to address urgent humanitarian needs caused by recent conflict.

Scroll down for details on how our team responded on the ground throughout the violent fighting.

Nearly half a million Gazans — a quarter of the population — have fled their homes since the conflict began in early July, with most taking shelter in overcrowded U.N. schools. No matter where they were seeking safety, there was little or no electricity, food and water.

We know that people on both sides of the conflict have suffered horrible losses. We are now focused on helping families where the humanitarian need is greatest.

We have delivered lifesaving food and supplies to more than 221,000 people — much of the work was completed amidst the fighting. “All of this is being done during active conflict,” explained Stu Willcuts, the Director of Mercy Corps’ humanitarian response in Gaza. “The challenge is one of distribution during an ongoing battle.”

Thursday, September 18

The past several weeks have seen a lasting cease-fire in war-torn Gaza. While the skies have been quiet, the struggle is far from over for innocent civilians who've lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the recent fighting.

Destruction from the conflict is obvious at every turn. Families are still in desperate need of clean water, food and supplies to help repair damaged homes and shelters.

A young boy receives a Mercy Corps distribution in El Zeitoun. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

"You can feel that people are traumatized in a surprising, horrific way. There is a proverb in Gaza which translates to 'when you drink, you have a hangover, and only after you realize what happened'," said Mercy Corps' program manager Samer Mohsen.

Our team has continued delivering essential supplies to families in need, and we've now established 20 different water points that offer safe access to clean water in some of Gaza's hardest-hit areas.

A Gazan boy gets water from a Mercy Corps water point in eastern Gaza. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

We are continuing to work with Gazan children through psychosocial activities to help them cope with what they've experienced during the war. We are also offering short-term employment projects to adults to help families get by while they rebuild their homes and businesses.

For families in Gaza, this cease-fire is only the beginning of a much longer story. "The situation is not getting better soon. People can adapt but now we have lost this ability — things are too difficult. The situation will last and it needs long-term attention. Now over 100,000 people don't have homes. Winter is coming in two months," said Mohsen.

Our work helping families rebuild their homes, recover from trauma and find new work in Gaza will continue amidst the rubble, with the hope of helping families recover one step at a time.

Wednesday, August 27

The cease-fire in Gaza appears to be holding — we spoke with Stu Willcuts this week about the situation on the ground.

"People are waiting to see if this cease-fire holds. Markets will likely be open, cars will be out, kids will be on the streets playing. At the same time, it'll be interesting to see whether people leave the shelters. During the last cease-fire many who had left shelters got caught when the fighting commenced again suddenly, and they had to hurry back under fire. If by Friday and Saturday there is still true quiet, people might believe it."

The on-and-off nature of the recent fighting is taking its toll on civilians and Mercy Corps staff alike. "Our own emergency team is fed up with the violence. You just can't continue to do this over and over again," said Willcuts.

Mercy Corps' deliveries of food and hygiene packages will continue, but Willcuts knows it's important for staff, who have been out nearly every day during the conflict, to have time to recover.

During this cease-fire, staff will be given time to rest, assess the damage to their own homes, attend funerals and take care of other personal matters.

"Before the end of this month, we plan to do a special psychosocial session for our staff and their families. This is a stressful time for all of us," said Willcuts.

Tuesday, August 26

Today in Gaza cautious relief comes with the news of another cease-fire. For civilians who have endured seven weeks of conflict, it's a much-needed respite.

Despite the fighting during the last week, the Mercy Corps team has been active — delivering emergency aid to more families who are still taking shelter. We've now been able to reach more than 210,000 civilians with both food and hygiene packages.

Our team is also setting up 10 more mobile water points that will provide clean water to more families and children for drinking, cooking and bathing.

As we wait to see if this cease-fire is the start of a lasting truce, Mercy Corps' staff is preparing to help more children recover from this crisis. When they are able, our team will begin a second phase of psychosocial activities and work to assess and help the most traumatized children.

Thursday, August 21

During the recent cease-fire, which broke into fighting again Tuesday, our team was able to deliver thousands of food and hygiene packages to families in need. Because of their dedication throughout this crisis, Mercy Corps has now been able to reach more than 185,000 people with emergency food and supplies.

As our emergency distributions continue in some of the hardest-hit areas of Gaza, Mercy Corps staff members are also responding to the needs of children in Gaza who have suffered unthinkable trauma in the past two months.

One 11 year-old girl named Reham shared her story:

“Our house was shelled directly by artillery and we were lucky to survive. We fled our home to a school in Beit Hanoun seeking protection and security. While we were running away I saw a headless young man lying on the ground in the main street... I felt very frightened."

Reham's mother told us that she frequently screams in her sleep. To help children like Reham cope, our staff are leading activity sessions in the shelters that help kids safely express their emotions through play and art.

Children play at one of our activity sessions. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

The sessions have reached 11,000 children so far, and our team is preparing to provide more long-term support for children and their families in the coming months. Learn more in a Q+A with Program Manager Dr. Jasem Humeid about how we're helping children during the ongoing conflict ▸

Thursday, August 14

After fighting resumed for a brief moment this week, a new 5-day truce has been declared and for now, the skies above Gaza are quiet. The conflict remains unpredictable, and hopes for a longer-lasting break in fighting are cautious.

No matter what the days ahead bring, damage has already been done for families in Gaza who have lost their homes, their belongings, and their livelihoods.

“Our life was normal, we were happy, but now everything is gone," said Ahmed, 32, who has been living in a single room with 12 other family members. "Half of our house has been destroyed and I lost my carpentry shop; it was my only job."

Ahmed is one of many Gazans who received emergency supplies from the Mercy Corps team this week. Our dedicated staff has been out, taking advantage of the lull in fighting, in some of the hardest-hit areas of Gaza, like eastern Khan Younis.

There, our team continued to deliver essential food and hygiene supplies to families in need.

A young girl and her family wait with the hygiene items that they received from Mercy Corps. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

A man from eastern Khan Younis sits with his food and hygiene packages. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

A Mercy Corps staff member checks people in to receive food and other items. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

A group of people sign up to receive items from the Mercy Corps team. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps staff prepares hygiene and food kits for distribution in eastern Khan Younis. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

While it's unclear whether this break in fighting will result in a longterm solution, our team is looking ahead to ways that we can help families in Gaza cope with the losses, damages and trauma they have suffered.

Wednesday, August 13

During this latest pause in fighting, the team has been able to distribute food and supplies to more families trapped in areas that are impossible to reach during active conflict.

We also have set up 10 water points in some of the most devastated areas of Gaza so families there now have access to a steady supply of clean drinking water. Most people have been without running water for the duration of the conflict since electricity was lost to filter and pump the regional supply.

Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Since displaced people are now moving back and forth more often between their damaged homes and the shelters, we placed each 10,000 liter water containers in a central location where they could be safely reached — inside warehouses or former shops that offer some form of protection.

Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

The attached taps allow families to gather water in jerry cans that can be transported to where they are currently taking refuge.

Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Stu Willcuts, director of our humanitarian response in Gaza, oversees the installation of each water distribution point and monitors refills as often as necessary. We're working to add 10 more water points to reach even more people in need as quickly as possible.

Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Monday, August 11

A new three-day cease-fire in Gaza appears to be holding and there is tentative hope for a more lasting peace. No matter what comes in the next days and weeks, the humanitarian consequences of the past month's fighting will remain, and we will continue to address the needs of the half a million people who are now displaced.

Photo: Mercy Corps

Here, Fathya, an 87-year-old woman living in a school shelter in Gaza City, opens the supplies she received from Mercy Corps.

"I lost my house and I don't have money to rebuild it. I just can't start from the beginning. It's hard for me. We need clothes, clean bathrooms, milk for the children, diapers and some medicines — just normal stuff to survive," said Fathya.

We continue to call for a lasting cease-fire as our team distributes essential supplies, medical kits and water this week.

Friday, August 8

After a 3-day cease-fire, fighting resumed today. Hopes for a lasting truce are gone and the humanitarian needs of people in Gaza keep mounting.

“The 72-hour ceasefire gave us all hope that a more durable peace agreement was on the horizon,” said Willcuts. “Yesterday, I watched families starting to move out of the displacement shelters and go back home. There was a lot of hope yesterday that the ceasefire may hold. Today those hopes are dashed.”

“After nearly a month of intense fighting, the needs of the people are massive.” said Willcuts. “Safe and secure humanitarian access to allow for distributions of food, water and other emergency assistance to the civilian population must be continued.”

Mercy Corps took advantage of the 72-hour lull in fighting to assess the needs of people in Gaza and to rush vital humanitarian aid to thousands of people sheltering in U.N. schools.

The break allowed us to relocate emergency relief supplies from our central Gaza warehouse to several smaller warehouses located closer to our primary distribution centers. We now have less distance to travel to deliver essential supplies to families in need, making it safer for our staff and allowing us to act even faster than before.

We're preparing our 10 water containers to act as mobile water points for the more than 1.5 million civilians who have little or no access to drinking water.

Mercy Corps is also bringing in a team of 13 medical professionals, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses and reconstructive surgeons, as well as critical medical supplies. The medical team is expected to arrive in Gaza on Monday.

We have already provided three medical kits, which include medicines, rehydration salts, surgical tools and bandages, to private hospitals in Gaza, and we plan to distribute more kits next week.

As the largest private aid group in Gaza, we have now provided 10,500 families, more than 84,000 people, with essential emergency relief.

Thursday, August 7

“In general, the people of Gaza are shell-shocked. They are exhausted and just want the fighting to be over,” Willcuts reported while assessing needs at several U.N. schools. In one, nearly 200 people were crowded into a single classroom for shelter.

Since the cease-fire has so far held, many people are trying to move back home, if they have a house left to return to.

“The children have obviously been very affected,” he added. “Every child you see is just clinging to their parents and terrified. They never let go of them. They are in desperate need of psychosocial support.”

Wednesday, August 6

Mercy Corps welcomes the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and calls for all parties to work for a solution to the conflict that contributes to lasting peace in the region. Read the statement ▸

Tuesday, August 5

A 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire has started and appears to be holding.

“The team is reporting that people are using this as a chance to move around a bit. Others are using the opportunity to return to their areas and see what is left of their homes,” says Willcuts.

“According to our staff who are out and about, it is a surreal landscape. There are no blocks without damaged or destroyed houses or buildings.”

With only three days of truce, our team is rushing to do a larger assessment of displaced families’ urgent needs, particularly in Rafah and Khan Younis in southern Gaza — areas that have been hit hard in the past few days. We’ll direct emergency supplies, food and water to areas where civilians are the most desperate.

Monday, August 4

Nearly half a million people have now been displaced by the ongoing fighting. The risk of disease is increasing without the electricity required to filter and distribute Gaza’s water supply.

“We are already seeing cases of lice and scabies as a result of the lack of water for proper washing in the overcrowded shelters,” says Willcuts.

Our team has procured 10 large water containers that each hold 10,000 liters of water. People require 7.5-15 liters of water per day for drinking, cooking and hygiene. We’ll use these to set up mobile water points for displaced families.

Mercy Corps staff members have been in the field delivering emergency food and hygiene packages to families in need. The food and other essential items will help them stay clean and healthy as they wait out the fighting.

Photos: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Friday, August 1

A proposed cease-fire dissolved quickly and fighting continues.

A new delivery to our warehouse includes 5,000 heavy tarps ready to deliver to families who are trapped in damaged homes and missing windows, walls and doors.

Photo: Nalan Al Sarraj for Mercy Corps

Thursday, July 31

Today teams were in the field distributing over 7,000 hygiene kits at 16 of the U.N. schools where hundreds of thousands of people are crowding for refuge — including one where many of the survivors fled yesterday’s bombing of shelter in Jabaliya.

These kits will provide over 50,000 people with supplies like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and towels.

Read more in the full story posted on July 31 ▸

Tuesday, July 29

Gaza’s only electricity plant has been hit, cutting off all power. People are dependent on generators, but they are few and far between — and the fuel to run them is running out.

"Gaza is on the verge of collapse. There are virtually no safe places anymore,” Willcuts said.

“The other day, Mercy Corps staff were on an aid convoy in eastern Gaza and a shell landed 30 meters from the truck. Shrapnel went all over. They had a decision to make right then, whether to continue with the delivery or to turn around. But they knew people were waiting for what they were delivering and needed it badly. So they decided to press on.”

Saturday, July 26

During a short 12-hour cease-fire, families return to their homes to assess damage and gather anything they can.

Our emergency response team leader, Ahmed Hegazy, was out doing assessments and met Saeda.

“Three days ago, at 3:00 a.m., Saeda was forced to flee with her family,” he recounted. “Her family were having a light meal before Ramadan fasting for the day when they heard extreme and continuous near shelling. They all fled onto the street, terrified of being shot. They were overtaken by smoke and became disorientated, but they kept running. Saeda lost control of her family. Now, her eight-year-old daughter, Ola, is missing. Saeda is sheltering in a school and just wants to know whether Ola is alive or dead.”

Wednesday, July 23

Photo: Mercy Corps Staff

In less than a week, we’ve reached over 1,000 families — about 8,000 individuals — with emergency food and supplies.

The team reports that eastern Gaza villages are virtually abandoned, and families are seeking safety together in large buildings. “They’re moving into schools, unfinished apartment buildings, empty commercial buildings, warehouses where 30-40 people are sleeping,” said Willcuts.

Ahmed Hegazy, one of Mercy Corps’ emergency responders in Gaza, described the conditions his fellow Gazans are facing: “When people leave their homes, they usually grab what they can carry — often it is a blanket or some spare clothes, sometimes they also manage a favourite book or a framed picture of a loved one. They are in need of everything you might imagine to survive and retain a sense of normalcy and dignity. And each time they have to run, it starts all over again. We often find people in makeshift shelters running out of food and too terrified to move.”

Read more in the full story posted on July 23 ▸

Monday, July 21

Our team is responding to urgent needs in Khan Younis, Rafah, Gaza City and northern Gaza, distributing packages of canned meat, beans, dates, cheese, powder milk, rice, pasta, oil, and other basic necessities like blankets, baby wipes and diapers, detergent and hygiene items.

Our longer-term programs are currently suspended, but we know that hundreds of thousands of children are experiencing significant trauma. We’ll be ready to expand our existing psychosocial programs to help young survivors as soon as it is safe to do so.

Friday, July 11

We are closely monitoring the situation as events unfold in Gaza and are preparing emergency response plans.

With 87 national team members and a network of more than 50 community organizations, Mercy Corps currently has the largest humanitarian aid presence on the ground in Gaza, next to the U.N. We'll draw on over two decades of experience working in Gaza, helping families survive and recover from crisis.

How you can help

Make a gift to support Mercy Corps' emergency response work in Gaza and around the world. You'll help families survive the crisis here and the hardships they face in many of the world's toughest places. Donate today ▸