What it's like to be an aid worker in Gaza now

Agricultural greenhouses in Khan Younis destroyed by airstrikes in Gaza. Airstrikes are a constant threat to everyone, including aid workers. Photo by: Mohammed Al Baba / Oxfam

These days, in the middle of summer, the sun shines bright over Gaza, but few people are able to enjoy it.

Airstrikes force the majority of the population to seek refuge in shelters or stay at home behind closed shutters, including aid workers that have instructions to work remotely and avoid going to their offices.

But in such a challenge environment, how can organizations actually deliver aid and continue to implement their projects? How are they able to get a parcel of food from point A to B? How can one possibly coordinate operations not knowing where the next projectile will land?

In Gaza, Oxfam relies largely on its local partners, we learned from Arwa Mhanna, a media and communications officer who in the past few days has also taken part in ensuring operations continue for the organization.

The airstrikes, she explained, are a constant threat for everyone — including aid workers.

At present, all Oxfam staff in Gaza are working from home after a projectile landed very near its office just a few days ago, and several beneficiaries died when they were trying to access food via vouchers at a local market. The situation has forced the organization to suspend all its long-term economic development programs — like helping locals start their own businesses — and focus exclusively on humanitarian assistance like water and food distribution until the bombings stop, to not put its personnel in more danger.

But it’s not even safe at home, she said. Housing blocks get hit by projectiles too, and electricity is cut off for about 18 hours a day, leaving aid workers struggling even more than usual to do their job.

"Having your computer turned on all the time is like a luxury now," she pointed out, adding that they try to keep charged phones solely for work purposes.

In Gaza, Oxfam delivers its humanitarian aid through local partners, so what Mhanna and her colleagues do is coordinate the response via phone, making sure that there are enough supplies and operations are always running despite the lack of power, which is starting to have a severe impact for instance on access to clean water because the desalination stations are turned off most of the time and many pipelines have been destroyed in the bombings. Also, now they must trust local partners even more than usual, as they cannot go out into the field and check on projects.

As for supplies, the organization relies on available items in the local markets, which despite the airstrikes still have enough stock, at least for now.

In case of a supply shortage, they are drafting contingency plans to procure supplies from abroad, but getting these into Gaza will be practically impossible until the borders reopen or humanitarian airlifts are cleared by Israel.

Mhanna hopes they never reach that stage before there is a ceasefire.

Are you an aid worker in Gaza? Please share your story by leaving a comment below or sending an email to news@devex.com. You may also visit Oxfam’s Gaza emergency response page to find out more.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.