Israel–Palestine Conflict: Gaza's humanitarian situation explained

The Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, faces a crisis as Israel retaliates against attacks by the militant Hamas group

A set of houses in Gaza reduced to rubble from the Israeli airstrikes (photo: DW)
A set of houses in Gaza reduced to rubble from the Israeli airstrikes (photo: DW)


More than 200 trucks carrying some 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid started rolling into Gaza in the morning of Saturday, 21 October, from the Rafah border crossing, Egyptian TV showed.

The crossing had been closed since the October 7 attack on Israel by the Hamas group. The Gaza Strip has been running low on medicine, fuel and food since Israel cut off electricity following the attack.

Israel agreed to let aid into the Strip earlier this week following talks with US president Joe Biden.

In a statement released Saturday morning, the World Health Organization (WHO) said four of the trucks carried WHO health supplies, including trauma medicines and supplies, medicines for the treatment of chronic diseases and basic medical supplies for "300,000 people for three months".

The WHO said it was working with the Egyptian and Palestine Red Crescent societies to ensure the safe passage and delivery of the supplies to those in need.

However the WHO also said the supplies "will barely begin to address the escalating health needs as hostilities continue to grow", adding that "a scaled up and protected aid operation is desperately needed".

The Gaza Strip is 365 sq km (141 sq miles) in size and home to around 2.2 million people, 1.7 million of whom are refugees, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The UNRWA provides services in eight refugee camps across Gaza.

'The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world at 5,900 residents per square kilometre', according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some 41 per cent of the population in Gaza are under the age of 15.

Ever more displaced Gazans and a rising death toll

Over 1.4 million Gazans have been internally displaced since Hamas' attacks on Israel earlier this month, the UN's humanitarian coordination office said Friday, 20 Ocober. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the European Union, the United States, Germany and several other nations.

According to Hamas officials, more than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the conflict.

Healthcare sector under strain with dead and dying

The Gaza Strip has 13 hospitals, which are 'only partially operational due to supply shortages and fuel rationing', according to OCHA.

A press release by Fabrizio Carboni, regional director for the Near and Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), warns that as "Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients on oxygen at risk. Kidney dialysis stops, and X-rays can't be taken. Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues".

Power shortages as Israel cuts electricity

The Gaza Strip has one power plant, generating about 70 MW of electricity per day. This covers a small fraction of the territory's total energy needs of at least 400 MW, according to data collated by the OCHA.

In addition, some 120 MW of power are ordinarily imported from Israel. On average, Gazans have received just 13 hours electricity per day this year.

Following the Hamas assault, Israel stopped supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip. With Gaza's only power plant now out of fuel and offline, the territory is without electricity, meaning residents and institutions alike are dependent on power generators.

Unemployment and poverty define life in Gaza

Gaza's unemployment rate stands at over 45 per cent, according to OCHA data. Some 60 per cent of people aged 15–29 are without work.

Data gathered by the UN body shows that in 2021, over 80 per cent of Gazans employed in the private sector earned less than the minimum wage of $442 (€419) per month.

UNICEF spokesperson Stephane Dujarric has said that nearly 80 per cent of Gazans rely on humanitarian assistance.

When did the Gaza Strip blockade begin?

Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007, after Hamas took control of the territory. Since then, people's movements into and out of the area through Israeli checkpoints and the sole crossing into Egypt at Rafah have been severely restricted, says the UNRWA.

Following Hamas' October 7 assault on Israel, the latter imposed a "total blockade", shuttering all checkpoints and halting the delivery of food, aid and fuel into the Gaza Strip.

This means the Rafah crossing to Egypt — the only checkpoint not controlled by Israel — is the sole route for food, aid and other items to come into Gaza.

In the past, the Rafah crossing has been shut for extended periods and only open on an irregular basis.

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