Extreme heat worsens Gaza's dire problems

When Maryam Arafat, her husband and their three young children fled their home in Gaza City under Israeli bombardment, it was the dead of winter. Forced to take shelter in a ramshackle tent in Deir al Balah, the family shivered during the bitterly cold nights, as there was no fuel to heat them and not enough clothes to stay warm.

Since then, the climate has become hot and humid on the coast of the Gaza Strip, and that tent itself has become unbearable and suffocating.

“The tent looks like it's on fire,” said Ms. Arafat, 23. “It's so hot you can't stand it, especially with little kids.” On her lap, one-year-old Yahya screamed in discomfort.

Nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza were forced to flee their homes under Israeli shelling and military evacuation orders when the weather was cold, and the makeshift tents many found themselves living in provided little protection from the cold temperatures. Faced with a lack of fuel for heating, Gazans have cut down many trees to burn for heating and cooking.

Now, with a scorching sun overhead, there are few trees to provide shade as temperatures rise, reaching a high of 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday.

Scott Anderson, deputy director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, said Sunday that rising temperatures have made fighting the spread of disease as much a priority as delivering food.

The heat is exacerbating the already terrible problems resulting from Israel's war in Gaza. People rely on water to keep them cool when it is already in short supply and not easy to obtain, and warm weather brings with it insects that help spread disease.

“Everything has become difficult in this world,” Ms. Arafat said. “There is no water.”

Mrs. Arafat uses a piece of cardboard to ventilate her children and moistens their heads and limbs with what little water they have.

Along with warmer temperatures have come mosquitoes, ants and other insects. At night, Mrs. Arafat and her husband stay awake and watch over their three children, worried that they will be bitten. Their tent is in an open field camp and she fears even more dangerous threats, such as snakes.

Fadwa Abu Waqfa, a 37-year-old mother of three living in a tent in Rafah, recalls how even in peacetime, when her family lived with air conditioning, a refrigerator and cold water, they struggled to cope with the Gaza heat.

He said the situation now is beyond words.

“We can't sit outside and we can't sit inside the tent,” he said. “It's so hard. It's a heat I can't describe.”

She and her family spend much of their days walking to and from the pump where they fill two liters of water during each trip.

Her 3-year-old son Osama wakes up at night from the heat and all she can do is give him water to drink. He knows this is just the beginning and that temperatures will get even worse in the coming months.

“We're just praying for God's mercy,” he said.

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