The recent three-day ceasefire in Gaza allowed Handicap International and its partners to initiate essential relief operations. In a phone interview on August 8, Samah Abu Lamzy, project manager for Handicap International in Gaza, described what they were able to accomplish during this brief respite in fighting.
After an entire month of conflict, the first proper truce started on Wednesday. What is the first thing you did?
For the past four weeks hospitals have been struggling to deal with the waves of injured people. There was so little we could do in comparison to these overwhelming needs. However, Handicap International still managed to deliver assistive devices like wheelchairs and other supplies to the main hospital in Gaza on three separate occasions.
During the ceasefire we were able to send nine teams composed of physical therapists, social workers, and mental health counselors to the five governorates of Gaza to identify and respond to the needs of the people. They distributed mobility devices and provided physical therapy and mental health support. Our staff and all the volunteers from our partners here in Gaza did a fantastic work.
However, for these humanitarian workers to do their job, we need a lasting peace, not just a three-day ceasefire. With the ceasefire now over, our efforts have been seriously compromised.
What needs did the teams observe in their assessments?
In the shelters we visited, people had limited or no access to the most basic hygiene facilities. The support they received was generally limited to food and water, and not always in sufficient quantities. For people who are vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, this situation is not sustainable. Many of them need medication, physical therapy, and assistive devices in order to avoid a serious deterioration of their situation.
The level of mental trauma is very high and the people will need psychological support to overcome their stress. No one is unscathed after four weeks of hearing explosions, seeing injured people and dead bodies, losing loved ones, and watching entire neighborhoods collapse into rubble. Over the last years the population of Gaza has been going from one war to another, with short periods of peace in between. Psychologically they cannot bear one more day of fighting.
Have you observed a high number of people with disabling injuries?
Yes, we are very concerned about the number of people who will be left with a disability because of injuries that are not being treated properly. The health system has been incapable of absorbing the mass of people with injuries—about 10,000 over four weeks. People with complex injuries need thorough, on-going support to avoid the development of permanent disabilities.
We are also concerned by the likely presence of explosive remnants of war, which will threaten the population when they move back to the most heavily shelled areas. Handicap International is preparing an evaluation of these risks, but again, our teams won’t be able to finish this work without a complete end to the fighting.