Inside Gaza - a day in the life of humanitarian workers #2

Local news, 29.04.2024

In view of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, Switzerland allocated CHF 90 million (close to USD 102 million) in humanitarian aid, including CHF 81 million to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The funds were disbursed in 2023 to the International Committee of the Red Cross, various United Nations agencies and Swiss non-governmental organisations in the medical sector.

While most people are familiar with the concept of humanitarian aid, understanding what it looks like in practice is another story. In order to shine a light on the realities of delivering humanitarian aid in crisis situations, the Swiss Cooperation Office Gaza & West Bank is publishing a series of blogs based on testimonies from humanitarian workers. 

Nour Hammad talking to aid recipients © WFP

Nour Hammad is a communication specialist for the World Food Programme (WFP). Eman Aqeel is implementing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Her colleague Wasfy Abu Zanoona works on aspects related to the protection of children, be it education, psychological support or basic health services. All three have different responsibilities and cover different aspects of the humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip, but all three are connected by the same challenge – the lack of available resources.

"Resources are scarce, and needs are overwhelming"

"The lack of materials and supplies is a big challenge for us" says Eman. Wasfy confirms his colleague’s statement: "There is always a shortage of resources, but the situation gets worse when supply lines are disrupted. Trying to meet the vast needs of the affected population has become a constant struggle". This impacts all aspects of the humanitarian response. For example, Nour describes having to work "from a WFP-contracted local shop because it’s the only place that has a solar system and a stable internet connection in the area". This also means having to use more traditional ways of communication. "I spend part of my day talking to the people we serve. I listen to their stories, hear their worries and hopes, and feedback on our assistance. Recently I have also been meeting with community representatives from the informal camps, informing them about distributions and making sure people know how and when to receive their assistance."

The shortages do not only apply to physical goods. "There is a lack of service providers and specialists" according to Wasfy. He also points to the exhaustion of aid workers who have been serving since the beginning of the war. "The intense nature of the work, coupled with the emergency setting, often leads to long hours with little rest, impacting personal life and the ability to connect with family and friends."

Moral and ethical dilemmas

Amid this humanitarian crisis, scarcity of resources exposes aid workers to hard choices. "Making decisions in such complex situations often involves moral and ethical dilemmas, such as prioritising whom to help first when resources are limited", says Wasfy. And of course, this also has an impact on the personal level. As Eman explains: "Dividing myself between working and being a mother of four children under such unprecedented circumstances is very challenging. I am trying to cope with shortages of supplies, kids’ demands, the stress created by security risks, communication blackouts, the loss of beloved friends and family members." But, despite the feeling of helplessness and all the challenges, humanitarian workers can’t give up. As Nour puts it: "Not being on the ground when I can would feel like a betrayal to the people in need. I continue to work because I don’t want any family to be left behind. Not mine, and not the people we serve."

Wasfy Abu Zanoona distributing clothes to families © UNICEF/2024/Eyad al Baba

UNICEF provides humanitarian and development aid to children worldwide. Due to the catastrophic impact of the war in the Gaza Strip on children, UNICEF works with partners on various areas such as WASH (e.g. providing water containers, chlorine tablets for water purification and fuel to operate water wells, desalination plants and trucking), child protection (e.g. basic mental health and psychosocial activities) and education (providing recreational activities in support of children’s wellbeing). Switzerland contributed CHF 10 million from its humanitarian emergency credit to support UNICEF activities in the Gaza Strip.

WFP is an international organisation within the United Nations system that provides food assistance worldwide. WFP is providing food to 1.45 million of the Gazan population each month. Activities include the delivery of ready-to-eat food parcels, hot meals, wheat flour and specialised products in shelters, makeshift camps and shops, and the provision of wheat flour and other necessary resources for bakeries to operate. WFP also received CHF 10 million from the Swiss humanitarian emergency credit.