Inside Gaza - a day in the life of humanitarian workers

Local news, 09.05.2024

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 (ICRC), 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. 

MdM mobile clinic in the Gaza Strip © Médecins du Monde Suisse, 2024

Médecins du Monde Switzerland (MdM) is conducting an emergency project in the Gaza Strip , which includes emergency medical services through a mobile clinic and cash assistance. The mobile clinic provides medical and mental health services to internally displaced people in shelters in Rafah, including counselling to traumatised children who saw their parents being killed.

We spoke to Alaa Alkhatib, MdM’s Field Coordinator in the Gaza Strip. With a decade of experience in the humanitarian sector, Alaa joined MdM a year ago to fulfil a mission close to his heart – “ensuring good health and protection for every individual”. In addition to his humanitarian role, Alaa also describes himself as a “dedicated husband and father to two young children, aged 4 years and 5 months”. Alaa and his family are currently living in a shelter in Rafah after having been displaced from their home.

MdM-medical consultation-Gaza
Alaa Alkhatib comforts an injured child during a medical consultation © Médecins du Monde Suisse, 2024

Calculations for survival…

What starts as a relatable account of a day in Alaa’s life quickly brings us to the harsh reality on the ground. “Before the war, I used to wake up to the annoying sound of an alarm… but nowadays, it’s the sound of bombs and explosions that jolt us out of sleep”. As Alaa goes on to explain – in a strikingly methodical manner – how he and his family organise their day, we understand just how complex the situation is. “The day begins with the essential task of checking if water is available, often involving a wait. Once it returns, there's a rush to fill up our small gallons. Next on the agenda is exploring the market for available food supplies. The availability of items depends on the number of trucks that could enter Gaza. In the meantime, my family seizes the time for washing and cleaning.” As his family carries on with their day, striving to cope with the challenges of war and displacement, Alaa gets to work. As Field Coordinator, Alaa’s job is to ensure the timely and effective delivery of MdM’s projects. “The typical working day starts with checking the internet connection availability in addition to the sunlight as we fully depend on the solar panel system for electricity generation. Accessing emails and messages is crucial to receive updates on work progress, but also to find out if colleagues are still safe. Movement on the ground to attend meetings and following up the work must be precisely studied and calculated beforehand. Several working scenarios must be discussed before heading to the field in order to keep each visit productive and meaningful.” What Alaa doesn’t mention, probably because it is so obvious to him, is the continuous bombing and fighting in the background, making every single task civilians and humanitarian workers undertake dangerous.

… and the toll on mental health

“The most significant challenge in surviving in Gaza is the combination of factors”. Alaa mentions the ongoing conflict, limited access to basic necessities, economic hardship, and restricted movement. “Additionally, the psychological toll of living under prolonged conflict and siege adds another layer of difficulty to daily life in Gaza.”

Strategizing to survive is already overwhelming in itself, but individuals also have to find ways to cope with the psychological and social consequences of living a war situation. Alaa speaks for example about the “high levels of anxiety and panic” that take hold of people at night. The potential for attacks increases and navigating the streets become more difficult, as the streets have been unlit since the imposed power cut on 11 October. But there is also a lack of basic interactions that can have huge consequences for adults and children alike – “before going to sleep, you remember that you haven’t talked to your children nor played with them”.

Alaa Alkhatib gives presents for Eid to displaced children in the Gaza Strip © Médecins du Monde Suisse, 2024

Founded in 1980, Médecins du Monde is a medical organisation that works towards a fair and universal health system. 17 associations make up the MdM network, including the Swiss branch founded in 1993 and based in Neuchâtel. Present in the oPt since 1994, MdM Switzerland focuses primarily on supporting the mental health of Palestinian children that have been detained, as well as on suicide prevention among young people. Since 7 October 2023, MdM Switzerland has been delivering an emergency response that focuses on the provision of cash and primary healthcare in the Gaza Strip, and mental health and psychosocial support services in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Switzerland contributed CHF 1.5 million to the organisation from its emergency humanitarian credit.