Rainfall on a destroyed Gaza could spell disaster

For the first time in Gaza, rain has become a curse for the poor and the displaced. The family of Osama Hajjaj, comprised of his wife and eight children, gathers in a makeshift tent that they had erected to shield them from the scorching sun, never thinking that they would soon be met by a downpour of heavy rain.

By “tent,” I do not mean an official tent erected by UNRWA that can house a number of people within a few square meters. Rather, the “tent” is little more than a patchwork of repurposed window drapes, blankets, and towels strung together with rope. The tent of Osama’s family is located in the courtyard of the European Hospital in Khan Younis.

Osama’s family fled to Khan Younis on October 10 from the Shuja’iyya neighborhood in northernmost Gaza. At the time, Gaza had experienced uncommonly high temperatures, so the family left their home wearing light clothing appropriate to the summer-like heat. No one could conceive that their flight from their home would last this long, or that they would enter the winter season with little more than the clothes on their backs. 

“We left with only two changes of clothes per person,” Osama said in an interview with Mondoweiss. “This entire time, we have been wearing one pair of clothing, washing the other and waiting for it to dry, and then changing into it.”

“We had no idea that this would continue into the winter, and that we would suffer a series of human catastrophes afterward,” he added. “The constant bombardment, the hunger, and now the cold, which puts the lives of our children at risk.”

During the past two days, heavy rains fell on Gaza. It has greatly exacerbated the already deplorable conditions that close to one million refugees have been living under in shelters, hospital courtyards, schools, and public streets.

These are the same rains that used to always be seen as a blessing by Palestinians in Gaza, which are good for agriculture and for replenishing groundwater wells, especially where 97% of water in Gaza was deemed undrinkable since before the war. Now, in such harsh conditions of displacement and exposure, rains spell disaster and renewed suffering. 

Well before October 7 and the catastrophic destruction wrought by Israel’s genocidal retaliation, Gaza was already suffering from a worsening infrastructural crisis that led to chronic flooding in Gaza’s poor neighborhoods and refugee camps. The flooding crisis was the direct result of the destruction of civilian infrastructure caused by Israel’s previous wars from 2008 onward. After each war, municipalities would spend years in the effort to repair the damage, which was slowed to a snail’s pace by the Israeli blockade’s restrictions on the entry of building materials and equipment. 

Now, in the wake of the war’s destruction, most of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has been leveled.

Displaced Palestinian children play in the rain outside Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza, after rainfall in Gaza, November 14, 2023. (Photo: Naaman Omar/APA Images)

Relief for some, disaster for most

He first realized it was raining when water began pouring over their heads as they slept, Osama told Mondoweiss. Water had collected on the top part of the nylon tarp that had been fastened above, mainly to shield them from the sun, until the water began to leak through and soak them and all their belongings. They weren’t able to wear dry clothes for two days. 

“The same thing happened with my neighbors,” Osama said. “We sat for long hours outside in wet clothes, waiting for the sun to show itself so that we could dry ourselves.” 

The skies remained cloudy for most of the day.

“I have eight children,” Osama said. “I don’t have enough money to get clothes for all of them from the market.”

He said that prices in Khan Younis have skyrocketed due to the shortage of supplies, nearly quadrupling costs.

“We’ve been left here alone,” he told Mondoweiss. “We don’t receive any aid or assistance. And no one even comes to see how cold we are. No one is coming to provide us with real tents.”

On the second day of rainfall, Osama and his family attempted to enter the European Hospital’s hallways to find shelter, but they weren’t able to stay there for very long due to the crowding.

Osama said that the only way they’ve been able to keep warm is to huddle close to one another and exchange body heat.

As for those who have been able to find a place to stay with family in southern Gaza in their homes, they have been so far spared the cold brought by the rains, and have instead taken the opportunity to collect rainwater for drinking, due to the shortage of water in Gaza.

Ahmad Salama, a young man residing in his home in Khan Younis, is hosting 20 displaced members of his family who came in from the north during the Israeli invasion. 

When he first heard rainfall at dawn, Salama immediately went to the roof and brought with him sheets and pots to collect the water. This has spared him and his family members the hardship of having to walk long distances to collect drinking water from designated supply points.

Salama told Mondoweiss that the water they collected in pots was used for drinking, while the water that soaked into the sheets, blankets, prayer rugs, and other random pieces of cloth were wrung out into pots and used for washing.

Displaced Palestinian family in a tent outside Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza, after rainfall on November 14, 2023. (Photo: Naaman Omar/APA Images)

Yet those who have benefitted from the rain are exceedingly few, and for most the rainfall is partly a blessing bust mostly a curse, as the majority of displaced persons in southern Gaza don’t have a roof over their heads.

Amidst the persistence of inhumane conditions for the displaced, exacerbated by the lack of fuel, insufficient aid, and continued Israeli bombardment, the people of Gaza have no authority or body to turn to. They have been left alone to survive or die in the streets.

Tareq S. Hajjaj
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union. He studied English Literature at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. He started his career in journalism in 2015 working as a news writer and translator for the local newspaper, Donia al-Watan. He has reported for ElbadiMiddle East Eye, and Al Monitor. Follow him on Twitter at @Tareqshajjaj.

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