Deir el-Balah, Gaza Strip – In an area of ​​less than 3 square kilometers, 100,000 people are fighting for survival. This small part of the Gaza Strip is becoming increasingly uninhabitable.

“We are dumping garbage in remote areas on the outskirts of the camp, but these spaces are full,” Hatem al-Ghamri, the mayor of Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, told Al Jazeera. “We are facing a real catastrophe.”

Maghazi, the smallest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, is located near Deir el-Balah in the center of the enclave and normally houses 30,000 people. With the displacement of residents fleeing Israel’s relentless bombardment in the north and west, the population has now more than tripled, while Israeli airstrikes on homes and shelters here continue.

The camp is in serious trouble. As garbage piles up, there is a lack of water and massive overcrowding, disease outbreaks occur.

Despite its location on the southern side of the Gaza Strip – where Israeli forces ordered northern civilians to flee before beginning a ground invasion from the north – the small camp was subject to heavy artillery and air strikes.

Such air strikes on civilian camps and infrastructure are now commonplace. The Jabalia refugee camp was attacked at least three times, killing hundreds of Palestinians. Civilian infrastructure, including schools, was also bombed in the south.

Palestinians search for survivors of the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in Maghazi refugee camp, November 5, 2023 [Fatima Shbair/AP Photo]

Bakery and water fountain bombed

In Maghazi camp, Israeli airstrikes on Oct. 26 destroyed the only bakery in the camp, the mayor said. For seven consecutive days, not a single loaf of bread was distributed to any of the residents.

The Maghazi camp includes two shelters for displaced civilians in two UNRWA schools, each currently housing 12,000 people. A third UNRWA school was bombed.

Due to overcrowding, displaced people in UNRWA schools face growing challenges, including the spread of diseases such as smallpox and scabies, and lack of access to vital resources such as water, food and children’s basics such as diapers and milk. Women also do not have access to sanitary pads.

“Maghazi camp has seven water wells, two of which were targeted by the occupation in the eastern area,” al-Ghamri said. “The remaining five wells cannot be operated by the community because the Israeli occupation prevents fuel from entering the Gaza Strip.

“We need 300 to 500 liters of fuel to operate the five wells, and we also have to pump 3,000 cups. As the number of displaced people increases, we have to pump double the amount, but we can’t do that.”

Due to the accumulation of significant amounts of waste, insects and epidemics have spread in the Maghazi camp. Workers no longer have access to the usual garbage dumps in Wadi Gaza and east of the city of Rafah.

In addition to the spread of disease, people are also threatened with famine. “We face major challenges in supplying food to the Maghazi camp,” al-Ghamri said.

“All municipalities in the Gaza Strip suffer from aging machinery that needs to be replaced, and we are working to maintain them regularly,” he said.

“In the municipality of Maghazi there are only two vehicles available, which, due to the repeated violent Israeli attacks, are used not only for municipal tasks but also for transporting the injured.” They are also used to transport food aid.”

Women and children flee as Israeli airstrikes hit homes in Maghazi refugee camp, November 6, 2023 [Yasser Qudih/Reuters]

Arrival of the flour “a miracle”

The Maghazi community received 1,000 bags of flour, but only by chance, the mayor said.

“The flour was miraculously provided. When the occupation tanks attacked a car on Salah al-Din Street on Monday, we were in the area and the UNRWA truck was on its way to Gaza City in the western Gaza Strip. It refused to continue its journey and contacted UNRWA to distribute this amount to the Maghazi camp [instead]said al-Ghamri.

However, it won’t last long. The mayor explained that the camp needs 5,000 bags of flour, weighing 25 kg each, every few days to supply the residents and displaced people here.

There are 30 Maghazi community workers who work eight hours each on normal days. Nowadays they work around the clock and in increasingly dangerous conditions.

“When one of the wells was attacked, municipal employees were working there,” al-Ghamri said. “Miraculously they survived and some of them were injured by shrapnel from the bombing.

“Under the coordination of UNRWA, the Red Cross and the Water Authority in Ramallah, a municipal employee inspected the main water pipeline for the entire central region of the Gaza Strip. We are currently working to repair it after it was attacked and destroyed by the Israeli occupation.”

The mayor said the community was running out of options.

“Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip has resulted in the killing of 10,000 Palestinians, most of whom are children and women. Israel has targeted doctors, health workers, journalists, ambulance personnel and civil defense personnel.

“Everyone in Gaza is being targeted.”

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