Gaza’s ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ explained – and how you can help

'Every minute this aid is delayed hundreds more lives will be lost.'

Gaza’s ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ explained – and how you can help
A composite image of a Palestinian woman crying and several images of the Israel-Hamas war.
Humanitarian groups have expressed increasing concern for civilian lives in Gaza (Picture: AP/Getty)

After the bloodiest attack against Israel in five decades, the nation is battering the Gaza Strip at a magnitude not seen in past conflicts.

Supplies into the territory home to some 2,300,000 people have been cut off by officials as the country’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to ‘fight until victory’.

Thousands have been killed on both sides as a wave of death and destruction sweeps the two regions, many more have been injured and at least 210 Israelis are being held hostage in Gaza.

In Israel, officials estimate that at least 1,400 people have been killed during the Hamas attacks – mainly on October 7 – and more than 4,000 injured.

At least 4,385 people have been killed in the two weeks since the war erupted, Gazan health officials said yesterday. (This includes at least 1,756, meaning a child is killed every five minutes, according to Islamic Relief.)

More than 13,500 have been wounded in the territory.

GAZA CITY, GAZA - OCTOBER 18: A girl tries to collect usable belongings amid wreckage of vehicles after Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital was hit in Gaza City, Gaza on October 18, 2023. Over 500 people were killed on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told. According to the Palestinian authorities, Israeli army is responsible for the deadly bombing. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, one of Gaza’s main health facilities, was damaged this week (Picture: Anadolu)
Palestinians inspect the damage after overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 22, 2023 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Palestinian groups. Overnight raids on the Gaza Strip killed at least 55 people, the Hamas government said on October 22, after Israel announced it was stepping up strikes. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)
Tens of thousands of homes have been flattened in the conflict, human rights groups say (Picture: AFP)
Palestinians inspect the damage after overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 22, 2023 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Palestinian groups. Overnight raids on the Gaza Strip killed at least 55 people, the Hamas government said on October 22, after Israel announced it was stepping up strikes. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)
According to one charity, one child is killed every five minutes in Gaza (Picture: AFP)

Aid agencies and charities told that conditions in Gaza are growing increasingly desperate. Food, water, and fuel, among other basic necessities, are dwindling – fast.

Southern Gaza has been plunged into a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, they said, and hundreds of thousands of displaced people who fled the north are flooding into the area.

Nearly half of Gaza’s population has been displaced, the UN has said, with one human rights group estimating 52,000 of the 260,000 housing units have been destroyed or damaged.

Gender specialist for ActionAid, Soraida Hussein-Sabbah, who is based in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank, said life has always been difficult for Gazans.

She said: ‘Before this attack on Gaza, the lives of Palestinians were in Gaza already precarious.’

One reason is the 16-year-long Israeli blockade, backed by Egypt. Israel says the blockade – which limits some goods being imported – is needed to prevent Hamas from building weapons.

How to donate

First off, do your research

Before donating, do some research to verify that the aid agency or non-profit is reputable.

Resources like Charity Choice and Fundraising Regulator in the UK and American platforms like Charity Navigator and Guidestar can help.

Donating to groups on the ground should also be considered, Alex Ritchie, the CEO of the non-profit GlobalGiving UK, told

‘Being deeply rooted in their communities, local people know best about what their communities need during disasters,’ she says.

Dr Halima Begum, the CEO of the non-profit ActionAid UK, admits that times are tough.

‘Acknowledging the cost-of-living crisis, we call on the kindness of the British public and ask for its support as we raise funds to support the victims of this growing disaster,’ she said.

Here are some groups to donate to

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees and has set up emergency shelters in Gaza

Doctors Without Borders, which has carried out medical programmes in Gaza for two decades.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, a top humanitarian organisation that alongside supplies is also trying to track down missing people.

Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which works specifically in Gaza.

ActionAid, which on top of providing supplies such as blankets and fuel generators has long helped Palestinians seek employment and receive psychosocial support.

Islamic Relief, which has provided relief in occupied territories since 1997.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a charity which provides immediate medical aid.

Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of some 170 Palestinian and Israeli NGOs dedicated to peace-building efforts.

GlobalGiving, which sends donations directly to grassroots groups across Israel and Palestine.

Oxfam, which is hoping to send supplies into Gaza once it is safe.

Hussein-Sabbah warns, however, that the blockade has worsened economic and social conditions in some 140 square miles of land about a quarter of the size of London.

‘With an estimated 62% of the population in Gaza in need of external assistance from humanitarian organisations, you can imagine what life in an open prison can be like,’ she says.

Unemployment in the tiny territory is among the highest in the world, Hussein-Sabbah adds, at nearly 50%, driving poverty higher.

The blockade also prevents most people from leaving – special permits to work or seek medical treatment in Israel have to be sought weeks in advance.

Hussein-Sabbah says: ‘Women suffering from cancer and other medical conditions that need further medication often die while waiting for this permit. Quality of life is very low due to the tight closure imposed on it.’

But relief workers say the Palestinian civilian woes have only grown longer in recent weeks after Hamas militants broke through the border fence with Israel and unleashed a wave of blood across the southern border.

The retaliatory Israeli bombardment has shaken the strip, a spokesperson from the faith-inspired humanitarian agency Islamic Relief in Gaza says.

‘The bombs are falling constantly all around us and the situation here is terrifying. Our homes are shaking due to the intensity of the bombing and children are crying and screaming throughout the night,’ they said, speaking anonymously for safety reasons.

A formation of Israeli tanks is positioned near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel October 21, 2023. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Israeli tanks positioned near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel (Picture: Israel)
Wounded Palestinians Ahli Arab hospital at the al-Shifa hospital, following Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)
Gazan health officials say the majority of those killed and wounded at the al-Shifa hospital were women and children (Picture: AP)

‘The death toll is rising by the hour and hospitals, schools and mosques have all been hit. Even ambulances carrying injured people have been bombed.’

Gazans have few options, the volunteer says: ‘Families are fleeing but there’s nowhere safe to escape the bombing as Gaza is under blockade.

‘People are taking refuge in schools but even those have been bombed. Civilians are the ones suffering.’

The UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has estimated that half a million Gazans have been unable to access food rations as distribution centres are shut.

Only one out of five mills in the region are functioning, the UN’s humanitarian organisation, OCHA, estimates. This means wheat flour reserves may run dry by the end of the week.

The agency adds that Gaza’s one remaining seawater desalination plant and wastewater treatment works have closed due to a lack of fuel. Water reservoirs have been damaged in the strikes, too, raising fears of dirty water and sewage discharges.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mustafa Thraya/UPI/Shutterstock (14154528f) Aerial photo taken by drone shows the destruction in the middle of Gaza city by Israel bombs on Tuesday October 17, 2023. Aerial Drone Photos Reveal Extensive Damage in Gaza City After Israeli Bombing - 17 Oct 2023
Israel says its airstrikes are targeting areas used by Hamas militants (Picture: Mustafa Thraya/UPI/Shutterstock)
A Palestinian man helps evacuate a woman from a damaged building after overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 22, 2023 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Palestinian groups. Overnight raids on the Gaza Strip killed at least 55 people, the Hamas government said on October 22, after Israel announced it was stepping up strikes. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)
Israel has vowed to keep the ‘fight’ going (Picture: AFP)

The strip’s only power station also shut down last week. Hospitals have been relying on generators to keep medical equipment switched on for days.

‘The doctors are doing their best to save them but they are running out of medical supplies and the electricity that’s needed for operations,’ the Islamic Relief representative said earlier this week.

Hussein-Sabbah adds: ‘People who need daily and constant medication, such as those in need of kidney dialysis or those with chronic diseases, are left behind when so many people are in need of urgent care.’

But on Tuesday evening, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said hospitals in the region are nearing collapse due to energy shortages and dwindling drug supplies.

Hours later, hundreds of people – mainly women and children – were killed by an explosion at Gaza’s largest medical complex, the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

When the blast tore through the outside courtyard, it was housing thousands of displaced people, the ministry said of the ‘unparalleled and indescribable’ incident.

Gazan health authorities blamed the massacre on an Israeli airstrike. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the loss of life was the result of a failed rocket attack by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed Hamas-aligned group.

Gaza City from the air
Gaza City in 2020 (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Melanie Ward, the chief executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a London-based charity that provides healthcare relief, said: ‘The horrifying scenes from Al Ahli demonstrate that healthcare will not be safe until there is a comprehensive ceasefire in Gaza.

‘The international community must urgently demand that healthcare be protected, so that that medical workers be able to care for people without fear of coming under attack.’

Hussein-Sabbah adds there are only two words that can capture what is going on in Gaza for civilians: ‘A humanitarian catastrophe.’

‘When families have to run from place to place to save their lives, carrying their children and belongings in a plastic bag, as everybody can see on their TV, when people are buried under the rubble of their houses, when drinking water is only given to children so they might be kept alive, when people are saying goodbye to each other under the bombs – it is a human catastrophe already,’ she says.

Israel’s national army has said it is ‘continuing its effort to keep civilians out of arms way’, while the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) says relief is being provided ‘as needed’ in Al-Mawasi.

However international non-profits and aid agencies have been left wondering if enough humanitarian assistance can even be brought into Gaza.

Smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike at the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17, 2023. Relief convoys which have been waiting for days in Egypt were on October 17, headed towards the Rafah border crossing with the besieged Palestinian enclave of Gaza, aid officials said. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)
Relief convoys have been waiting for days in Egypt to cross the Rafah border crossing (Picture: Getty Images/AFP)

The only way in or out not controlled by Israel is the border crossing with Egypt, in the southern city of Rafah.

Hundreds of tonnes of supplies from several countries and NGOs quickly stacked up in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula waiting to enter Gaza over the last few days, with some 100 relief trucks entering Gaza a day before the war.

A convoy of 20 trucks carrying aid moved through the crossing into Gaza from Egypt on Saturday, according to the UN, a number that officials say is barely enough to start addressing the spiralling crisis.

Aid workers are hoping that fuel is allowed through –  the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said yesterday that fuel, for now, is out of the question.

Until the crossing is fully opened, Hussein-Sabbah says the ‘killing of more children, women and civilians generally’ will carry on.

‘The aid that can come inside might help a bit, but it is something. Every minute this aid is delayed hundreds more lives will be lost,’ she says,

‘The implications are imaginable, to keep going another day with no food, no hygiene, no water.’

For the Islamic Relief volunteer, international governments cutting aid to Palestine amid the war does nothing more than ‘punish’ vulnerable civilians.

‘All violence against civilians must end,’ they said. ‘We are calling for an urgent ceasefire as any further escalation is only going to bring more suffering for civilians.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.