The war between Israel and Hamas has exasperated an already dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. After the 51-day war ended, Gaza’s fragile infrastructure including health, education, water and sanitation facilities and electrical infrastructure has sustained severe damages. Israel still bans construction materials from entering the Gaza Strip stalling major efforts to reconstruct local businesses, factories, public institutions, schools and homes. Gaza’s unemployment and poverty rates have been driven to higher levels due to the level of destruction. Thousands of families whose homes were damaged or destroyed remain homeless and continue to struggle to find adequate shelter.
The Coordinating Committee of the Catholic Aid Organizations (CCAO) in the Holy Land has held weekly meetings since the war began in early July to better coordinate emergency aid for the people of Gaza. The Catholic charities: Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Caritas Jerusalem, Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP), the German Association of the Holy Land, and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Bethlehem University, the Solidarity of Catholic Schools and the Latin Patriarchate have exchanged information on emerging humanitarian needs and aid projects in order to avoid duplication and complement each other’s work.
A total of $5 million in emergency relief was pledged by donors worldwide to support CCAO members’ emergency aid programs in Gaza. Various emergency relief projects have been implemented during and after the war:
Caritas Jerusalem has distributed emergency supplies during and after the war. Caritas delivered 1,300 hygiene kits and some 800 liters of fuel to UN schools as well as to families sheltered in the Greek Orthodox School and Latin Patriarchate Schools; families were provided with hot meals and children underwent checkups, received medicine; psychosocial activities were also provided; food, milk and diapers were distributed to schools, basic supplies for 28 handicapped people sheltered the Sisters of Mother Theresa and 100 food parcels to sheltered families at the Holy Family Church. Additionally, fuel and medical supplies were delivered to Caritas Medical Center and four hospitals as well as medical supplies to the Ministry of Health. Caritas will continue its emergency aid include food distribution, cash distribution, healthcare services (Caritas Medical Center and mobile clinic), school supplies, backpacks and uniforms for schoolchildren, hygiene kits and Christmas gifts for 3,000 students will be distributed until the end of the year.
Catholic Relief Services responded to the crisis by distributing 6,000 NFI kits and 8,000 hygiene kits to displaced families; distributed in-kind medical supplies and fuel to Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, Caritas Jerusalem clinics and its network and Near East Council of Churches Mother and Child Clinics. School supplies and backpacks for 10,000 children; distributed unconditional vouchers for 400 families that meet critical food, water and other needs. Additionally, CRS has implemented a cash-for-work program rehabilitating 30 kindergarten classrooms, facilities and the construction of playgrounds and gardens in addition to psychosocial support in all of its programs. CRS is in the process of planning activities for the restoration of agricultural livelihoods, through vouchers and cash-for-work labor for local farmers.
Pontifical Mission for Palestine also delivered hundreds of liters of fuel to support the operations of the three Near East Council of Churches Mother and Child Clinics and Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, distributed medical supplies, medical equipment and medicines at these health centers and covered medical check-ups for children, healthcare services and surgery for poor and displaced patients. With funding from PMP that provided medical supplies, equipment and covered healthcare, Al-Ahli Arab Hospital has treated 5,000 patients since the war began including 1,600 burn cases, free of charge while the Near East Council of Churches’ three mother and child care clinics has treated twice as many patients normally treated per day. PMP’s program also supported Christian families in need of food and other household items through the Myrrhbearers Society and the Latin Parish in Gaza. Pontifical Mission have also mobilized institution and home renovation programs to repair sections of the Rosary Sisters School, NECC’s network of clinics and vocational training centers, as well as the residence of the Sisters of Incarnate Word among several institutions that have sustained war damages. In collaboration with the Greek Orthodox Trustees Committee and the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), PMP is currently undertaking an assessment of 88 Christian homes. PMP’s home rehabilitation program will rehabilitate Christian homes sustaining minor damages from the war. PMP will soon implement its psychosocial programs at five Christian schools and 22 public schools and kindergartens, Al-Ahli Arab hospital, NECC clinics and the YMCA – Gaza for the remainder of the school year.
CCAO members have directly aided or are in the process of aiding the Latin Patriarchate Parish in Gaza through the Latin Patriarchate, which includes the two schools (Latin Patriarchate School and Holy Family School), the parish and the Sisters of Mother Theresa’s home for the handicapped. Other CCAO members including Caritas Baby Hospital, the German Association of the Holy Land and the Custody of the Holy Land have generously provided financial aid that has supported emergency aid programs at the Latin Patriarchate Parish, kindergartens, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and other Christian institutions in Gaza. Bethlehem University and Secretariat of Solidarity have also generously contributed towards the emergency program in Gaza.