January 16th, 2009
01:05 PM ET

Getting aid into Gaza: Deteriorating by the day

Program Note: Be sure to tune in for the latest on the situation in Gaza tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/16/gaza.aid.delivery1.jpg caption="A Mercy Corp worker delivers aid to a family in Gaza."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/16/gaza.aid.delivery2.jpg caption="Children in Gaza receive humanitarian aid from a Mercy Corps delivery."]

Cassandra Nelson
Mercy Corps

January 15

It is noon and things have really started to deteriorate. I just found out some bad news about our staff in Gaza and the events that are unfolding there now.

We just heard from the director of the Mercy Corps office in Gaza City. She told us that Hazar, one of our field coordinators, and her family are stuck in their apartment in Gaza City. Their building is surrounded by Israeli tanks and there is plenty of shooting going on in their area. They are seeking cover in their corridor from the bullets; the shelling of nearby targets blew out the windows in their apartment.

They are anxiously waiting for the cease-fire to take effect which was announced for today from 11:00 to 15:00 to seek refuge elsewhere. It is just past noon and the shooting has not stopped.

The home of one our drivers, who has been transporting food items from the Kerem Shalom checkpoint and delivering them to our warehouse in Khan Younis, was completely destroyed last night. He spent the night in his truck in Rafah.

Right now we are tracking the status of the three trucks that we are expecting from Rafah filled with medical supplies to be delivered to the Red Crescent hospital in Khan Younis.

Also, an UNRWA compound in Gaza city appears to have been hit. UNRWA has suspended their operations for today.

I am in Ashkelon on the border and can hear and feel the bombardments every couple minutes. It is making the glass in my windows shake here and I cannot imagine the terror the people in Gaza are feeling now.

January 14th

The conflict has been raging for nearly three weeks but it seems much longer here. Everyone is exhausted and shocked that the fighting has been allowed to go on for so long, despite the staggering death tolls. More than 1000 dead. More than 300 children dead. Where has humanity gone?

Mercy Corps has managed to get two trucks of food aid into Gaza since the Israeli military operation started, but it has been a frustrating and extremely slow process to get the permissions from the Israeli authorities. The number of humanitarian supply trucks allowed to enter Gaza is entirely insufficient given the extraordinary need created by the conflict.

We have resorted to buying whatever items possible within Gaza to supplement our truck deliveries and meet the emergency needs of the families in Gaza more quickly. We have a team of 25 Mercy Corps staff who live and work in Gaza and they have been scouring the local market for any stock available. They have managed to procure blankets, mattresses, baby formula and other basic essentials, but we don’t expect that this is going to be possible for much longer. The availability of goods is rapidly decreasing and the prices are going through the roof.

The other problem we have is that there is simply no cash in Gaza. The banks are all closed; there are no ATMs and no way to get cash into our staff to buy the goods—or to pay their salaries. Even if we could send them checks there is nowhere to cash them. For the time being, everything is being done on credit, but that won’t last much longer either.

Now we are out distributing relief goods in the major areas of Gaza – Gaza City, Jabalia, Khan Younis and Rafah—our team is facing extremely dangerous conditions. Since the Israeli military action in Gaza began, four United Nations staff, plus four UN contractors in Gaza have been killed. One international humanitarian aid medical clinic was destroyed and several of their compounds have been damaged. At least four incidents have been reported of shooting near aid convoys. Not a minute passes that we are not concerned for the safety of our team.

Last week, the Israeli authorities instituted a daily temporary three-hour “lull” in fighting to provide humanitarian workers a chance to distribute aid, but this has not really helped. The slim window of time each day is not nearly enough to address the dire humanitarian situation on the ground and to transport aid deliveries from warehouses in the south of Gaza up to the north or other areas that need supplies.

Also, the time of the “lull” is constantly changing at the whim of the Israeli military—one day it starts at 9:00 am, the next day it is at 1:00 pm, and so on. We are only notified of the new timings moments before it begins, so we can’t organize our staff and distributions quickly enough to take advantage of the break in fighting.

Our distributions are very time consuming. In many cases our team goes door-to-door to ensure the most needy families are receiving aid. Many families are too afraid to venture out to distribution sites. This takes much longer than three hours, so our staff is usually out working well after the break in fighting has ended and the shelling and bombing have resumed.

Even with an increase in the number of workers packing and distributing, the vast needs of the people can't be met in this short time frame. 
Moreover, some fighting usually continues during the ‘lulls’ so humanitarian workers and the civilian population risk their lives moving around the Gaza Strip.

Working on the other side of the border where we take security, water, electricity and place to sleep and food for granted, I am overcome with admiration at the courage and strength of the Mercy Corps staff working inside Gaza. I hope that the Israeli authorities will respect the call of the United Nations and the international community to allow humanitarian aid workers to access Gaza so I can join my team.

Click here for more of Cassandra Nelson’s earlier blog posts.

Editor’s Note: Cassandra Nelson joined Mercy Corps in Afghanistan in 2002. She spends most of her time deployed in hotspots and hostile areas in need of humanitarian assistance. She has worked in Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Liberia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Filed under: Crisis in Gaza • Hamas • Israel • Palestine
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. eve

    Hi what most ppl. dont understand about this, is that israel is the terrorist. it starves the ppl of gaza ,it wont allow food or supplies in, and then when the ppl of gaza retaliate, it is Israel who crys foul. israel is the biggest Liar in this world,and has no shame to kill , palistinians are tired to be occupied,,,they are tired to suffer and being starved , what would we do if we had to endure this, at the ck point day in day out be humiliated, israelis come in ur house at any hours, just because they can,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,WHAT WOULD WE AMERICANS DOOOO.........................CALL THEM TERRORIST............SURE WE WOULD.

    January 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  2. JC

    It's so sad that all the innocent people in Gaza have to go through all the stuff that their going through. I can't beileve all the Hamas people are shooting rockets into Israel and harming the women and children. I hope if Isreal goes to war, I hope many people will NOT be harmed.

    January 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm |
  3. earle,florida

    I'm sad that the people of Israel can cause such harm on innocent woman, children,and the feeble elderly,without a conscious! What really erks me is that their incessant crimination of ,"War Crimes", sixty years hence? The audacity that they still seek financial restitution from the German Government, and other entities for the past,puts them in a very precariou position of justifying their contempt for secular infallibility,...

    January 16, 2009 at 2:30 pm |
  4. Evelyn (Canada)

    I can’t help but feel for all the Palestinians going through hell in Gaza right now, but my heart especially bleeds for all the new babies and their mothers. It takes time for a new mother’s milk to come in, but when under stress this will not happen. Also, new mother’s require sustenance in order to be able to produce milk, so most nursing mother’s milk probably dried up long ago due to the stress of bombardment and insufficient food and water. Now the Israeli’s have bombed the central storehouse of relief supplies including baby formula, diapers and other necessities of life for newborn babies and toddlers. Surrounding people in an inescapable area and bombing them is slaughter – there is only one word to describe the current Israeli government “Monsters”

    January 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  5. PA

    Cassandra, I commend you and all members of Mercy Corps for your service. It is heart wrenching to hear what you, your members and the people of Gaza are living through. Mercy Corps and other aid organizations are certainly manned by very compassionate, selfless, Special people. I know the people of Gaza must feel blessed to have you. You are their only hope amid the atrocities that are being waged against them. I pray God will Bless you all and Keep you Safe.

    January 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  6. Cindy

    It is sad that so many people have died and many more are suffering in deplorable conditions for what really!? Because two "neighbors" if you will, can't get along? And it is crazy that both sides are still going on with this war and are not even trying to come up with a solution to a cease fire! If they can stop fighting for a few hours to allow aid in then why can't they just stop all together? That makes no sense!

    I feel sorry for the ones stuck there in the middle of this mess and hope that this ends soon for their sakes. And if not then I hope they all stay safe and sound.


    January 16, 2009 at 1:18 pm |