Newspaper article International New York Times

Gaza Shelter Lacks Even Basics for Survival ; U.N. School Overwhelmed with Sick Children in Need of Food, Water and Cover

Newspaper article International New York Times

Gaza Shelter Lacks Even Basics for Survival ; U.N. School Overwhelmed with Sick Children in Need of Food, Water and Cover

Article excerpt

The U.N. school was the last resort for refugees who had already been fleeing across the city. But even it struggled to provide enough food, water and safe cover.

The makeshift shelter of upturned desks, cardboard boxes and dirty blankets in the courtyard of a United Nations school here was a considerable downgrade from the first refuge Fatima Kafarna found when shelling forced her from her home near the Gaza border with Israel two weeks ago.

She and her six children had initially moved into a classroom, with at least a roof over their heads and solid walls to surround them. Then Thursday morning a shell exploded next door, scattering them once again and adding to the family's woes.

"You want to take a shower -- you can't. You want to wash your kids -- you can't. You want to cook them good food -- there is none," Ms. Kafarna said.

As a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire was announced late Thursday, hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced during a three- week Israeli offensive against Palestinian militants. With an Israeli-Egyptian blockade keeping them locked in, about 200,000 people -- most of the displaced -- have packed into more than 80 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees.

Life in these shelters is full of deprivation and discomfort. It is stiflingly hot. Days pass in boredom laced with fear. The United Nations said that five of its active shelters had been hit by Israeli forces, killing dozens of people. While the source of another strike Thursday that hit a water distribution facility next to the school where Ms. Kafarna was staying was unclear, it wounded six people inside the school, increasing fears in Gaza that no safe places remain.

The United Nations tries to provide food, water, blankets, mattresses and other necessary items to all the shelters it runs, but it has struggled with logistics in an active war zone, and the ever-rising numbers have strained its resources.

The number of registered displaced people sheltered in schools is nearly five times as many as during the last war in Gaza of this magnitude, which ended in 2009, said Robert Turner, director of the United Nations relief agency. Many other Gaza residents are staying with relatives, mostly in homes with no power or running water, getting by on what they can muster on their own.

Its closed borders essentially trap the displaced inside Gaza.

"We are approaching a breaking point as far as physical space to put people," Mr. Turner said. "At some point, if there is another large-scale displacement, it will be beyond our capacity."

The strains of caring for so many people were clear outside the gate of one elementary school in the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City.

Garbage overflowed from trash bins near the school walls, adorned with murals of smiling children, and horses grazed on the waste. …

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