Gaza: people with disabilities disproportionately affected by the energy and salary crisis
People with disabilities (PwDs) and special needs have been disproportionately affected by the deterioration in living conditions in the Gaza Strip since March 2017. This situation is driven by a worsening energy crisis, which has resulted in outages of 18-20 hours a day, and an exacerbation of the salary crisis in the public sector, both of which are linked to an escalation in internal Palestinian divisions. In the midst of this crisis, Gaza’s unemployment rate reached 44 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 (April-June), up from 41.1 per cent in the previous quarter and 41.7 per cent in the same period of 2016.
The Palestinian Ministry of Social Development estimates that over 49,000 individuals in the Gaza Strip (or 2.4 per cent of the population) suffer from some type of disability, a third of them children. More than 1,100 of these people, including about 300 children, became disabled as a result of injuries incurred during the 2014 hostilities, including approximately 100 amputees.
Both Israel, the occupying power, and the State of Palestine are parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Albeit to differing degrees, they are all responsible for the wellbeing of PwDs in Gaza. Due to a range of factors that include institutional and attitudinal barriers that hinder access to services and full inclusion in society, people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable groups in a society already in crisis. In the Gaza Strip, more than 90 per cent of people with disabilities are unemployed, rendering them and their families largely dependent on cash assistance provided by the PA Ministry of Social Development.
A recent UNICEF study indicated that 35.7 per cent of Palestinian children with disabilities in the Gaza Strip do not attend school and only 44.5 per cent are enrolled in regular education. Households attribute this to lack of support, transportation difficulties, physical barriers, and stigma or discrimination against those with disabilities.
In addition to the general decline in the availability of basic services that affects the entire population, the extended power outages generate heightened pressure on people with disabilities who rely on electrical devices. For example:
- At least 2,000 people with physical disabilities are at risk of bedsores or pressure ulcers due to the inability to inflate air mattresses;
- 1,200 handicapped individuals face severe mobility constraints due to their inability to charge batteries for scooters and similar devices;
- An estimated 5,150 people with chronic respiratory problems are at risk of complications, including death, from the cessation of oxygen devices and vaporizers.
Institutions providing physical and occupational therapy to people with disabilities have been forced to reduce and/or modify their hours of operation depending on the electricity supply schedule, and the availability of backup generators and the fuel required to run them. One institution reported that the number of people attending physiotherapy sessions has declined by half since March.
The general worsening in the economic situation has also reduced the ability of disabled families to cover additional expenses such as replacement of assistive devices, special hygiene items, and transportation to rehabilitation and educational institutions.
The Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children reported that 50 of the 300 children with hearing impairment enrolled in the current academic year face problems attending the institution because their families cannot cover the transportation costs. Due to funding shortages, the organization has been forced to cut the transportation services it previously provided for its students. To mitigate the impact, Atfaluna delivers some of its services in alternative locations closer to the homes of the children affected.
Ten-year-old Maha, disabled since 2014 shelling, risks complications due to energy crisis
* This case study was contributed by National Society for Rehabilitation, Gaza Strip
Ten-year-old Maha suffers from quadriplegia as a result of a shrapnel injury to her neck that damaged her spinal cord. Artillery shelling struck her home in Al-Shuja’eya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City, on 20 July 2014. Seven family members, including her mother and two other sisters, Heba (13 years old) and Samiya (3 years old), were killed in the incident.
Maha spent the first month after her injury in Shifa hospital and was then transferred to Turkey for further treatment. However, her mental health worsened and 10 months later she was sent back to Gaza, where she is cared for by her father, grandfather and aunt.
The electricity crisis has complicated Maha’s daily life because the family has no alternative power supply. Recently the family acquired a battery-powered energy system (UPS) but this requires recharging and it can barely run the ventilation fans, lighting and TV for a maximum of four hours.
Apart from her inability to move her lower and upper limbs and difficulties with bladder elimination, Maha suffers from respiratory insufficiency and immune system paralysis, which puts her at a greater risk of lung infections. She also relies on a vaporizer and an air mattress. Recently, Maha developed bedsores and her family fears lung infections, which have already resulted in hospitalization twice in the past two years.
Maha receives two physiotherapy sessions per day at home after she returns from school. The family pays 60 ILS a day for a private therapist because home services provided by NGOs have been disrupted due to funding shortages.
“Maha’s situation is much harder and painful for me than the loss of my family during the war… I cannot bear to see her unable to use her limbs. It is a pain that will continue for years to come.”
* This article was contributed by Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.
 OCHA Fact Sheet: The Humanitarian Impact of the internal divide on the Gaza Strip, June 2017.
 Physicians for Human Rights Report: Amputees: The challenges faced by Gaza Strip amputees seeking medical treatment.
 PNGO Rehabilitation Sector
 According to UNICEF, in the West Bank 39.8% of children with disabilities do not attend school. UNICEF study, Every Child Counts: understanding teh needs and perspectives of children with disabilities.