Time and Space

Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions

Muhammad Hamid Zaman May 25, 2021
The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of Biomedical Engineering, International Health and Medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

There was strong support for the Palestinian cause all over Pakistan last week. If we were concerned about the lives of innocent civilians in Gaza last week, we should be just as concerned today, tomorrow and in the future. Ceasefire was the starting point — and an important one — but it cannot be the end goal. We now face a test whether our support goes beyond tweets and rallies.

Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. Last week, Israeli bombing damaged the only lab in Gaza that had the capacity to process Covid-19 tests. The damage to the only test processing lab is going to be far reaching not just for the residents of Gaza but for the whole world. Vaccination campaign that was already weak in Gaza (1.9% population vaccinated compared to over 56% in Israel) has now stopped almost completely. With large numbers of unvaccinated citizens forced to seek shelter in cramped schools, there is a high chance of an outbreak of Covid-19. Equally likely is the chance that new strains may emerge that undermine the gains made with vaccination in the last few months. Such an outbreak will not be contained by high walls, additional bombs or economic blockade.

Covid-19 is not the only public health challenge that is likely to become worse in the aftermath of the recent violence in the region. Reports of broken sewage pipes and wastewater in the streets of Gaza are also deeply alarming. Wastewater, in impoverished neighborhoods, with weak health systems is a source of drug resistant infection, as we have seen ourselves with emergence of extensively drug resistant typhoid in Sindh. Doctors are still struggling to contain that outbreak. Prior conflicts in the Gulf region and beyond have led to emergence of other pathogens, such as drug resistant Acinetobacter Baumanii (better known in some circles as Iraqibacter) that emerged after the second US-led Gulf war and evades even the most potent therapies. These drug resistant pathogens and infections not only undermine the local health system, but can jeopardise health of millions around the world, especially those who may already be at risk due to prior illnesses and compromised immune systems.

The ceasefire from earlier this week is a welcome starting point, but our efforts should not culminate with a ceasefire. The health, education and civic infrastructure in Gaza will need sustained help from all quarters, and we need to follow up our slogans with real financial support. Speaking loudly, waving flags or tweeting is easy, following up with cash donations is however the real litmus test of commitment. There are plenty of transparent aid agencies, run by local organisers, who would welcome the support of those care for the weak and the vulnerable.

Just as our support should not be bound by time (i.e. only up to the ceasefire), it should also not be bound by geography, or the size of the aid our country receives.

Our support should extend to all people who are displaced or targeted by a disproportionate force. We cannot waiver in our support for those who are bombed in their homes in Yemen, even when it is politically inconvenient to show our support. We have to stand for those who are sent to re-education camps, just because they are an ethnic minority, even when that is termed as a “non-issue” by the loudest voices in the government.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we cannot continue to look the other way when land-grabbing, illegal eviction or targeting of an ethnic minority happen in our own land. A movement for just world for all should include everyone, without any discrimination based on race, religion, geography or political convenience. Otherwise our support is nothing but a lesson in hypocrisy.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2021.

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