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Officials warn Gaza Strip on the verge of health crisis

Dec. 15, 2013 6:05 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 18, 2013 9:39 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The results of winter storm Alexa in Gaza will lead to a health disaster unless the world intervenes, a Palestinian medical official said Sunday.

"We are on the verge of a complete breakdown in the health sector, services, and civil institutes," General Director of military medical services in Gaza Atef al-Kahlout said.

Al-Kahlout said he feared chest and skin diseases would run rampant as a result of constant exposure to sewage water and lack of medical supplies.

He called on countries worldwide to aid Palestinians in Gaza by providing medication and supplies.

During disaster-relief missions in the neighborhoods of al-Nafaq and al-Zaytoun, 81 people were taken to hospitals while others were treated on the spot, he said.

Al-Kahlout added that rescue teams brought 91 families from the neighborhoods to shelters as their homes became too dangerous to inhabit.

Spokesman for the Gaza ministry of interior Islam Shahwan called on Egypt to fully open the Rafah crossing to allow supplies and aid into Gaza.

Civil defense forces have been doing their best to deal with emergencies despite the fact that they lack 80 percent of the equipment necessary to perform their tasks, Shahwan said.

During the storm, civil defense forces completed 2,211 missions, including 1,825 evacuations and 114 car-towings, said Deputy Head of Civil Defense Said al-Saudi.

Al-Saudi added that rescue teams pumped water from 99 houses, adding that 17 houses were sealed shut after their ceilings crumbled.

The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said on Saturday that large regions of the Gaza Strip were a "disaster area" and called on the international community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed.

"Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this," he said in a statement sent to Ma'an.
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