Humanitarian crisis in Gaza: Mitigating the catastrophic impact on persons with disabilities
HI publishes the report ‘Inclusive Humanitarian Action – Gaza’ on the need to strengthen inclusive humanitarian response in Gaza: Persons with disabilities are particularly affected by the devastating humanitarian crisis and face greater barriers to accessing humanitarian assistance than many others. HI, which specializes in supporting vulnerable people, including persons with disabilities, calls on humanitarian organizations and donors to adapt their activities to ensure that no person with disabilities is left behind in the Gaza Strip.
A devastating humanitarian crisis
More than 1,400 people have been killed and more than 200 abducted from their homes in Hamas attacks in Israel. As Israel has responded, more than 9,000 civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, mostly children and women, have been killed and 22,000 injured in airstrikes and violence so far (Hamas-Run Gaza Health Ministry).
More than 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, of whom nearly 672,000 are housed in 150 centres run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The average number of displaced people per shelter in UNRWA facilities has reached almost four times expected capacity. Many displaced people are also seeking refuge in hospitals and other health facilities.
Providing assistance to Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip is becoming increasingly difficult due to the intensity of airstrikes and hostilities. Each day, only a few humanitarian aid trucks are allowed through the border crossings in Rafah to enter Gaza and deliver aid.
Gaza has been in almost complete blackout since October 11 after Israel cut off electricity and fuel supplies to Gaza, resulting in the closure of Gaza's only power plant.
People with disabilities during the current crisis
“Many persons with disabilities, particularly those with reduced mobility, cannot evacuate. Many are separated from their families. They may lose assistive devices that are important to their daily life, such as glasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs. In normal time, this equipment helps them communicate with others and maintain their independence. Loss of hygiene products, diapers, catheters, etc., can also compromise their hygiene and dignity and increase the risk of infection. The risk of exclusion and harassment is also very high for persons with disabilities who find themselves in this chaotic situation. Protection and equal access to humanitarian assistance for persons with disabilities should be ensured.” - HI Rehabilitation specialist from Gaza Reham Shaheen
Persons with disabilities in Gaza face enormous challenges and difficulties in protecting themselves from violence and getting the help they need.
As persons with disabilities flee to safer havens many assistive devices are destroyed or left behind. Lack of maintenance of assistive devices, unavailability of products in the local market, and difficulties in purchasing these products outside Gaza due to bureaucratic hurdles have also a significant impact on their recovery and lead to subsequent complications.
It is estimated that more than 15% of internally displaced people have a disability. Most shelters are not adequately equipped to meet their needs. Emergency shelters lack necessary mattresses and medical beds, leading to ulcers and other health problems that cannot be treated in unsterile conditions. The food distributed does not meet the needs of persons with swallowing difficulties.
Access to health services, including rehabilitation, is more challenging for persons with disabilities than for other people due to stigma, discrimination and significant physical, economic and information barriers. HI's 2022 Needs Assessment found that almost all families with a person with a disability face barriers to accessing health services. Now that demand for aid is skyrocketing in Gaza, and new casualties occur as hostilities escalate, difficulties for persons with disabilities to accede these services are intensifying.
HI intervention in Gaza
To date, HI has reached 68 of 91 shelters in the South and assessed the needs of 4,000 displaced people. HI has supported 805 people by distributing 400 assistive and mobility devices, 191 bandages, 36 kitchen utensils, 57 dignity kits, 475 diapers and 57 baby blankets (according to HI available stocks).
The association organized 21 leisure activities for approximately 18,000 children and youth. Around 20 staff and 75 volunteers and partner personnel are mobilised for rehabilitation and equipment distributions and recreational activities. HI also conducted 68 risk education sessions with safety messages for more than 4,000 children and adults.
HI on inclusion of persons with disabilities in emergency aid
HI participated in drafting the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines to assist actors from the humanitarian, development and disability sectors to design and deliver essential actions for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian aid. The Inter Agency Standing Committee Guidelines released in 2019 are the first humanitarian guidelines, developed together with persons with disabilities to promote the planning and delivery of emergency preparedness, response, and recovery inclusive of persons with disabilities.
In May 2016, HI was involved in launching the Charter on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action. Over 170 States, humanitarian organisations, donors and charitable networks have already joined it. The Charter calls on all humanitarian aid institutions to modify their practices to better include persons with disabilities, involve them in decision-making, and ensure that humanitarian services are genuinely available to all. Today, we hope that still more States and humanitarian organisations will sign the charter and fully implement the principles it enshrines.
In February 2023, HI published the briefing The impact of explosive weapons in Gaza on the use of explosive weapons in Gaza between 2014 and 2021 and their direct impact on civilians.
In 2019, HI published the report The Waiting List on the long term needs of victims of explosive weapons in the conflict in Syria.
In 2014, HI and partner organisation HelpAge published Hidden victims of the Syria crisis: Disabled, injured and older refugees showing that older, disabled and injured Syrian refugees were paying a double toll as a result of the Syrian conflict.