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Healthcare Inequity and the COVID-19 Crisis in PalestineThe COVID-19 crisis in Palestine is worsening due to conflict in the region. Palestine is comprised of two territories that are separated by Israel. This includes Gaza and the West Bank. With Israelis preventing Gazans from leaving the area, Israeli soldiers are destroying agricultural lands that are vital for the Palestinian economy.

Palestinians, specifically those living in Gaza, have lived their entire lives relatively isolated from much of the outside world. A wall that was erected along Gaza’s borders prevents Palestinians from leaving the territory and subjects them to Israeli discretion. Help from NGOs and humanitarian aid can reduce the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine.

Pre-Pandemic Healthcare in Palestine

One consequence of the Israeli occupation is the scarcity of healthcare providers and resources in Palestine. In order to access Israeli health facilities, Palestinians must obtain travel permits, but these permits are frequently denied. There are 300,000 Palestinians living without access to adequate healthcare in the West Bank. The few healthcare facilities that do exist in the occupied territories face equipment and medicine shortages. The effort to increase the number of health facilities in Gaza has been hindered by Israeli refusing to grant construction permits and restrictions on medical imports and exports.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Palestinian Healthcare

The COVID-19 crisis in Palestine devastated its already inadequate Palestinian healthcare system. Gaza and the West Bank have a total of 375 ICU beds and 295 ventilators between them, for a population of over three million. The lack of available resources has severely hindered pandemic response in the territories, with health officials halting COVID testing in June due to a shortage of test kits in Gaza.

The sole laboratory in Palestine capable of processing COVID tests was forced to close as it lacked sufficient equipment. Household resources such as hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and even soap are scarce in Gaza and the West Bank. This is due to the lack of financial means. In addition, Palestinians don’t have the luxury to use social distancing to prevent the spread of the pandemic as the territories are severely overcrowded.

The ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict has exacerbated the severity of the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine. In July 2020, Israeli forces destroyed a quarantine facility in the West Bank, thus further decreasing the amount of pandemic-response resources available to Palestinians. Moreover, hospital space that could be used by COVID patients is largely occupied by the high volume of people seeking treatment for injuries acquired from conflict with Israelis.

Israel has also imposed restrictions on medical supplies, subsequently reducing treatment capacity in Gaza. In April 2020, Israeli authorities destroyed a Palestinian COVID testing center. It has been reported that water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are also casualties of Israeli attacks.

Aiding Pandemic Response in Palestine

The World Health Organization published an updated COVID-19 Response Plan for Palestine in April 2020. This plan involves increasing testing capacity, providing additional hospital beds and educating the Palestinian public about virus prevention. It also aims to increase the amount of personal protective equipment available to health professionals.

Palestinian healthcare providers rely heavily on humanitarian aid and NGOs such as Anera. Anera works towards increasing healthcare access in Palestine by distributing medication, wheelchairs and funding to healthcare providers in Gaza and the West Bank. In addition, Doctors without Borders or, Medecins Sans Frontieres, provides medical care such as trauma support, mental health services, surgeries and treatment for burn patients in the occupied territories.

The COVID-19 pandemic and other preceding disease-outbreaks have often been referred to as “great equalizers,” as they are able to affect all people. Yet, as noted by Dr. Stephen Mein, low-income populations and racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to contract these diseases. Socioeconomic disparities and political situations such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict prevent pandemics from becoming equalizers. This is because disadvantaged groups are disproportionately being impacted.

In the case of Palestine, tensions between Palestinians and Israelis have had devastating effects on the pandemic-response. The isolation of Gaza and the West Bank should have prevented the COVID-19 situation in Palestine from escalating so rapidly. Yet, the lack of funding and medical resources as well as political tensions and overcrowding in the territories, have resulted in many potentially preventable fatalities.

Although the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine remains a critical issue, the number of daily COVID cases has been continuously declining. Support from organizations such as Anera has alleviated pressure from the Palestinian leadership.

– Maariyah Kharal
Photo: Flickr

The Prevalence of Refugee Poverty in JordanViolent conflicts and lack of opportunity have displaced millions of individuals across the Middle East over the past decades and many of them have found refuge in Jordan. The bulk of refugees in Jordan are Palestinians and Syrians. Jordan hosts more than 2 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA and nearly 700,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, although some estimate that there are closer to 1.4 million Syrians in Jordan. As of 2019, there were 10 Palestinian and five Syrian refugee camps in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This article delves into the prevalence of refugee poverty in Jordan as well as organizations working to address this issue.

Palestinian Refugees

Slightly less than 20% of Palestinians live in refugee camps. Mass immigration of Palestinian refugees first began during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with another large spike after the 1967 war. While most refugees from 1948 have full citizenship rights in Jordan, many who came after the 1967 war do not, and a large percentage of refugees in general lack access to reliable education and health care and live below the national poverty line. Legal restrictions worsen refugee poverty in Jordan, as the situation in the Jerash camp shows.

In the Jerash Camp, 30,000 refugees are from the 1967 war. As many as 97% do not have a social security number, which severely limits access to employment opportunities and many do not qualify for health care. Slightly less than 50% of the people in camps live under the poverty line, and for those in the Jerash Camp, unemployment stands at almost 40%.

These same Palestinian refugees see college expenses double that of Jordanians, and with few scholarship opportunities, no reliable job market and no student loans, many must forego a college education. The living conditions in these camps can reflect the lack of support for refugee poverty in Jordan. In 2018, the workforce responsible for cleaning the streets declined by more than 75% due to pay cuts, leaving the camp caked with rotting trash, rats and flies.

Syrian Refugees

Approximately 83% of Syrian refugees live in poverty in Jordanian cities. According to UNICEF, 85% of Syrian refugee children live below the poverty line, with 94% of these children under the age of 5 dealing with “multidimensional poverty,” meaning that they are unable to gain access to basic needs like education or health services. Moreover, 40% of Syrian refugee families are food insecure, 45% of children up to age 5 do not have access to proper health services and 38% of Syrian children are not in school.

Similar to many Palestinian refugees, relatively few Syrian refugees have full legal rights, and even though they have access to public services, the actual availability of those services is severely hampered due to unsustainable demand. As mentioned above, only about 17% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in camps and it is only in these camps that they see some of their essential needs met thanks to funding by the international community.

Supporting Anera

Since 2004, Anera, a small humanitarian organization based in the Hashemite Kingdom, has been devoted to fighting Palestinian and Syrian refugee poverty in Jordan by providing education, health, community and emergency aid. In the Jerash Palestinian and Za’atari Syrian refugee camps, Anera delivers medicines, antibiotics and treatments for asthma and parasites to refugees. Other efforts include providing materials for school and hygiene and funding for early childhood development and women’s economic empowerment programs.

UNRWA

UNRWA, or United Nations Relief and Works Agency, works to provide services in the 10 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. It supports 171 schools, and by extension, more than 120,000 students, 25 health care centers, 10 rehabilitation centers and 14 women’s centers. It also provides social safety nets to almost 60,000 refugees and has awarded more than $125 million in loans. UNRWA also protects vulnerable women and children by improving access to assistance and case management as well as monitoring and advocating for the rights of Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

The Youth Base

In 2013, 27-year-old Obay Barakat started The Youth Base, a recycling initiative in the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp. Barakat, who lives in the camp, spoke with The Borgen Project about his motivations, saying, “The Baqa’a camp has more than 100,000 people in it and they live in just two kilometers of space with no services. The situation is so bad that I started to work with schools to teach the new generation to save the environment in Baqa’a camp. The camp is not a good place when talking about population density or infrastructure, but the people here are family and everyone helps each other.”

According to Barakat, until recently, few cared about this issue. He explains, “The hardest thing was people didn’t accept the idea, so I spent one year working only on awareness, teaching people about how recycling can solve environmental problems.” The Youth Base, which consists of Barakat and nine volunteers, works in the camp to recycle around a half-ton of metal, 10 tons of paper and eight tons of plastic every month. Barakat has used 30% of the money from recycling these materials to start a development project called Camp Theater, where they work with 120 children from the camp, making short films about societal problems like bullying, higher education, violence and harassment.

Looking Ahead

Jordan has become a center of hope for refugees forced to leave their homes in Palestine and Syria, but refugees often find themselves struggling as the scope of refugee immigration has overwhelmed the country and its resources. Refugee poverty in Jordan has become a serious humanitarian concern in the Middle East over the past decades. The international community, led by bodies like UNRWA, has stepped in to provide aid, but it is smaller organizations like Anera, and even individuals like Obay Barakat, who find themselves resolving issues on the ground. These organizations and people provide much-needed hope for those who have lost everything due to conflict and continue to struggle to find opportunities in their new homes.

– Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

The West Bank and Gaza
The West Bank and Gaza are considered Palestinian territories that have struggled with political power since the Six-Day War in 1967. This dispute has been between Israel and Palestine and the end result of the war has left the country in political turmoil. This devastated economic opportunities, local livelihood, sanitation conditions and household food consumption. In 2017, the 50th anniversary of Israeli occupation and the 10th anniversary of the Gaza blockade were marked. This has been affecting all job opportunities and proper food aid from entering the region. All of these factors have only made it more difficult to live in already precarious conditions and more risk for the already struggling population.

Work of USAID

The U.S. government works closely with the authorities in Palestine to address the economic and humanitarian needs of the country. To improve economic growth, USAID has donated roughly $400 billion to improve in-house situations for companies and impoverished families in West Bank and Gaza. Providing basic needs like clean sanitation systems and safe work environments is essential to maximize productivity within the company and keep the workers healthy. Many companies suffer from a lack of resources and expertise for their products, so the project Compete will help business owners learn more about their product, how to maximize value for those products and increase employment within the surrounding areas. The goal is to increase competitiveness and revitalize the private sector, bringing to the table full-time jobs, part-time jobs, seasonal jobs and paid internships.

Food Sovereignty of West Bank and Gaza

Food insecurity is a huge issue in the West Bank and Gaza territory as over 70 percent of people in this area suffer from lack of food and proper nourishment. Some of the causes for this are also a global phenomenon, environmental degradation, rising food prices and Palestinian food sovereignty. With food sovereignty, a state can control its own food resources, though that state has to have a self-sufficient food source with the help of government-controlled policies.

Since the occupation in 1967, Israel has confiscated thousands of acres of farming land and then separated it with the West Bank wall. With the separation of land, farmers are struggling to keep up the health with crops due to vandalism and destruction from settlers and the military. In Gaza, 25 percent of fertile land has been destroyed by the buffer zone, a zone that borders Israel. Patrol boats in the area only allow fishermen 15 percent of their territorial waters, further reducing the areas self-sufficient food sources. With the limitations on trade, environmental issues, confiscation of land and destruction of land, food sovereignty is unachievable. This has hindered economic growth and social conditions to reduce the levels of food insecurity.

Clean Water Access

Access to clean, potable water is limited by the wall between the West Bank and Gaza. Beaches, rivers and lakes are polluted and overcrowded refugee camps create health hazards for the sanitation systems. About 26 percent of diseases in West Bank and Gaza are related to filthy water. During the winter months, household septic tanks overflow and mix with rainwater, flooding homes and streets in the area. During the summer, the heat dries the streets from the flood and the smell coming off the streets is so bad that families keep their windows shut. Mothers refuse to let their children out to play because of the rancid smell and infected water.

Diseases continue to spread as garbage continues to pile up in refugee camps. The Anera organization is working on building proper waste management systems across Palestine, improving sanitation systems in the process. In 2014, Anera reconstructed sewage lines damaged by bombs. In refugee camps, they are taking an approach where the youth take the lead. Through campaigns designed to clean and recycle, they have developed a staff to train on proper waste management and a new sorting facility. They are creating a cleaner environment for 13,000 members of their community so far and will continue to reach out and help their people.

Health System in West Bank and Gaza

The health system in West Bank and Gaza has been shaped by years of occupation, political stalemate, violence and human rights violations. The barrier placed between the two territories limits access to East Jerusalem, the closest area that has specialized hospitals. The placement of these hospitals is scattered due to the many health care providers in the country. With the blockade in place, Gaza’s health care locations are experiencing unstable power supply and recurring power cuts.

The medical equipment has been deteriorating because of inadequate maintenance and spare parts cannot reach them. The barrier has also made it difficult to transport proper medicines to treat patients. All of these factors are crushing the health care system in West Bank and Gaza, making people seek treatment elsewhere though traveling in and out of Gaza is heavily restricted. Even with these limitations, health care in these areas still thrives. With the help of the World Health Organization, technical support will be provided to health technicians and fund projects created for diseases affecting the population.

Even with all of these issues, West Bank and Gaza still work out solutions to everyday and past problems. If these areas can continue to receive the funding from developed countries and nongovernmental organizations, they can grow back into the self-sufficient economy they once had.
– Kayla Cammarota
Photo: Flickr