By: Olfat Mahmoud

Olfat Mahmoud expresses her fears in the looming health crisis that is a result of the war.

Black Death, that’s how the future seems to everyone afflicted by war, an unpredictable future and the only wish they have is to die today before tomorrow because of the horrific terrorism inflicted upon innocent civilians. The health situation is not cheerful. Everyday the situation worsens and people have become obsessed with the idea that they are going to die, if not from bombardment then from diseases. Fulfilling our role as an NGO, we are exerting all our efforts to provide the needy with medicine and healthy treatment. As the director of the Women’s Humanitarian Organization (WHO) I would like to highlight the health programs implemented by our NGO and focus on the current critical health situation.

Our health program consists of major areas dealt with among women by raising health awareness and guiding them with the right hygiene. Such issues are: health education for women, breast feeding, breast cancer, child diarrhea, aged care. In addition, we also deal with elderly care, mainly for chronic diseases.

The effect of war on health has been easily observed since the beginning of war in July 12. Bourj El Barajneh camp is a significant example. It is home to about 20,000 Palestinians and is located near the airport, in the southern suburb of Beirut, precisely adjacent to the area targeted aimlessly by Israeli air strikes. The camp has four main entrances that are subjected to air strikes. Life is almost paralyzed; people are panic-stricken and are striving to stay alive with the help of the NGOs, who are making use of every simple means for the sake of the residents of the camp and the surrounding area. All this has affected the health cycle of the residents and the displaced who sought shelter in the camp. Here is a close insight to the life in the camp and how people deal with war after a long period of peace, recently shattered by the dramatic sounds of shelling and bombing. * * * In the camp, houses are shabby and consist of worn-out buildings with weak infrastructure. The buildings have been destroyed several times and rebuilt on the same ruins with no strong architectural design. People live in small houses with a maximum of three small rooms, one shared toilet with a shower. In normal days the rooms are overcrowded. After the Nakba [catastrophe] of 1948, Palestinian refugees initially lived in tents. Then, with the passing of time, they were able to build shabby and unorganized houses. They never thought that they will stay in the camps all that time for 58 years. Given the ever-growing number of people in the camp, the only way to expand was to go up. So the camp consists of 3-storey buildings arranged in an unorganized manner. In this latest war, people who lived in the upper floors moved to the lower floors for safety. So, the number of people has grown to 20 persons per room (3 m²). In such circumstances, and speaking health-wise, the usage of the toilet by more than one family results in an unhygienic environment. People are aware of this problem but have no other choice, so they have reduced the amount of food and intake of water to lessen the usage of toilets. This in turn creates its own health problems, such as malnutrition, dehydration, etc. Other problems caused by such circumstances are a shortage of water, because water in the camp is usually pumped and due to the continuous cut-off of electricity pumping water has become impossible. Also, every family member has very little time to clean up or take a daily shower in this hot sweaty summer, which causes lice, as well as skin problems (rash, scabies, etc. have appeared), which is another aspect of the negative impact of war on people. On top of all of this, most of the women where the hijab , but since they now live in shared houses they have no privacy. They are thus unable to expose their hair to the sun and dry wind, especially after shower, which will result in the head remaining very humid, causing headaches, colds and bad hair smell. Moreover, it is also very important to mention the kinds of lethal weapons the Israeli military is using. Israel is using internationally banned weapons, illegal bombs that cause allergies and asthma even in ordinary persons with no prior respiratory problems. With time, these ailments will grow and affect the respiratory system more severely; reports show that these kinds of bombs cause cancer. Lebanon is a field of trial and error for Israeli weapons. Nowadays there is a shortage of food, so people with chronic disease, especially the elderly, find it impossible to stick to the special diets they need to follow to remain healthy; this affects their health and increases the risk of having serious complications due to their illnesses. The lack of fresh vegetables and fruits had caused the situation to deteriorate and worsen. Furthermore, some negative psychological problems have been observed since the beginning of the war among the children and other groups in the population. So far, children have been suffering from: bed wetting, nightmares, biting nails, frozen in the corner and sucking thumbs. They also spend most of their times stuck to their mothers, they get uptight quickly and are nervous, and often burst into hysterical crying. These kids expected to have a joyful summer because they have just finished school, and summer is the only time to have fun in the camp, and it has now been disrupted by war. They are now imprisoned inside their own world of fear and terror. They keep asking questions about what will happen? Where will we go? Many questions, with no definite answers. The only question that describes the whole situation is reflected on their pale face: WHEN IS DEATH GOING TO PASS BY?

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