Nearly 20,000 babies born into Gaza war 'hell': UN

AFP , Friday 19 Jan 2024

The United Nations said Friday that thousands of babies had been born in conditions "beyond belief" in Gaza since the Israeli war on the strip erupted more than three months ago.

Gaza babies
A woman dries a baby in a towel after giving it a bath, inside a tent at a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 18, 2024. AFP


UNICEF spokeswoman Tess Ingram, back from a recent visit to the Gaza Strip, described mothers bleeding to death and one nurse who had performed emergency caesareans on six dead women.

Nearly 20,000 babies have been born into the Israeli war on Gaza that began on 7 October, according to UNICEF, the UN children's agency.

"That's a baby born into this horrendous war every 10 minutes," Ingram told reporters in Geneva via videolink from Oman.

"Becoming a mother should be a time for celebration. In Gaza, it's another child delivered into hell," she said, emphasising a need for urgent international action.

"Seeing newborn babies suffer, while some mothers bleed to death, should keep us all awake at night," she said.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says at least 24,762 Palestinians, around 70 percent of them women and children, have died during Israel's siege and invasion of the strip, and the United Nations says a quarter of the 2.3 million people trapped in Gaza are starving.

Ingram described "heartbreaking" meetings with women caught up in the chaos.

'Unimaginable challenges'

One woman, Mashael, was pregnant when her house was hit and her husband buried under the rubble for several days, and her baby stopped moving.

"She says she is sure now, about a month later, that the baby is dead," Ingram said. But, she added: "She is still waiting for medical care."

Mashael had told her it was best "a baby isn't born into this nightmare", she said.

Ingram also told the story of a nurse named Webda, who said she had performed emergency caesareans on six dead women in the past eight weeks.

"Mothers face unimaginable challenges in accessing adequate medical care, nutrition and protection before, during and after giving birth," Ingram said.

"The situation of pregnant women and newborns in the Gaza Strip is beyond belief, and it demands intensified and immediate actions."

The infant mortality rate in Gaza at the moment is unknown, she said.

But she added: "It is safe to say that children are dying now because of the humanitarian crisis on the ground as well as from the bombs and bullets."

Ingram said the Emirati Hospital in Rafah was now catering to the vast majority of pregnant women in Gaza.

"Struggling with overcrowded conditions and limited resources, staff are forced to discharge mothers within three hours of a caesarean," she said.

"These conditions put mothers at risk from miscarriages, stillbirths, preterm labour, maternal mortality and emotional trauma."

Many pregnant and breastfeeding women and infants are living in "inhumane" conditions, including makeshift shelters, with poor nutrition and unsafe water, she said.

This, she warned, was "putting approximately 135,000 children under two at risk of severe malnutrition".

"Humanity cannot allow this warped version of normal to persist any longer. Mothers and newborns need a humanitarian ceasefire."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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