Winter is coming to the Gaza Strip and with it, fears that living conditions for the 1.8 million internally displaced people will get significantly worse.
It’s been nearly two months since a war broke out between Gaza’s militant rulers, Hamas, and neighboring Israel. About 80% of Gaza’s population is now homeless, with many people forced to live in make-shift shelters, largely exposed to the elements, according to the United Nations.
Over a million people in Gaza have fled to United Nations Relief and Works Agency shelters set up there, the U.N. said. These shelters cannot cope with the influx, according to Dr. Adnan Abu Hasna, spokesperson at UNRWA in Gaza.
“The circumstances in our shelters is very tough actually,” Abu Hasna told ABC News. “People are suffering a lot. For example, there is one toilet for 125 persons and one shower for 700 people. There is a lack of cleaning water, a lack of drinkable water also, lack of food, lack of everything.”
The bad weather is compounding an already difficult situation, several Gaza residents told ABC News in interviews conducted during the last two weeks. People living in tents are struggling to make them watertight. They are patching them up as best they can with tarpaulin. The rainy season in Gaza usually begins in late November or early December and temperatures can get as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
“At 6 in the morning, we woke up to rain falling and the place was soaked with water,” Iqbal Saleh Mohsen Abu Al-Saud, one resident, told ABC News, when the winter rains first came to Gaza last week.
“We are 30 people in this tent,“ he explained. “We were displaced from Gaza City from the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. We went from home to schools, then to tents, from place to place. Without food or shelter, we only left our homes because of the bombing."
“The children fell ill with gastroenteritis and we have nothing to buy clothes for them,” he said.
The risk of disease in these overcrowded shelters is getting higher with the advent of the bad weather, with the threat to young children a particular concern, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.
“The potential outbreak of disease is huge because you have got people living very closely together,” UNICEF spokesperson Toby Fricker told ABC News. “If the routine immunisation coverage drops significantly then that risk of diseases like measles spreading and others would be deadly particularly for children who don’t have strong immunity at the moment.”
“The key issue now is that the child health service is on the brink,” explained Fricker, saying UNICEF is “extremely concerned of course about routine vaccination rates dropping massively, which would expose children, particularly young children under five to diseases outbreaks which are a massive danger particularly as the winter months are coming.”
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned in a social media post on Wednesday that “more people could die from disease than bombings’ in Gaza due to “the living conditions and lack of health care." He also shared some numbers on how widely spread infectious diseases were in the war-torn enclave.
The situation has become so bad in some areas that, despite the cold and the rain, some displaced families said they were opting to camp in the ruins of their homes rather than stay in the overcrowded shelters. Some took advantage of the recent cease-fire agreement to return home.
For instance, the Al Qara family in Abasan al-Kabira, a city in southern Gaza, has been staying in what remains of their house.
“What do we do? During the cold weather, we bring the blanket and put it on top of us,” the grandmother of the family told ABC News. “The children sleep while they feel cold. There are no walls to protect them from the cold. All the houses have been bombed.”
“Our house, it was completely destroyed,” she said. “As you can see, we are sitting and preparing breakfast while sitting in the street.”
They are not alone. Many other families have returned to their homes across southern Gaza only to find them destroyed.
“I said I would go back to my house and tidy it up and sweep it … but I came and found it destroyed. I am very shocked by what I saw,” Gaza resident Um Raed Al-Najjar told ABC News
“We were all waiting for the truce because we were psychologically tired. We became mentally ill,” another resident, Muhammad Al-Najjar, told ABC News. “The majority of people will lose their minds. We will all lose our minds, we have seen death fifty thousand times.”
The long-term future for Gaza's displaced appears bleak as the U.N. estimates 45% of the territory’s total housing stock is too badly damaged to be inhabitable. Even if the truce between Hamas and Israel holds, it will be a long time before Gazans can have a home.
“My whole house is lost, all my dreams are destroyed in one day and one night,” Gaza resident Hussein Qudeh told ABC News. “I'm so shocked I don't know what to do.”
'No walls to protect them': Gaza families brace for winter originally appeared on abcnews.go.com