You might have heard British writer Damian Barr quoted at some point over the past year:
“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted us all, but not equally. What should have been an indiscriminate equalizer, a deadly air-borne virus that does not respect borders, has laid bare inequality on a global scale. Wealthy countries shored up against the storm, often leaving our poorer and more vulnerable neighbours at the mercy of the elements.
The simple fact of a person’s birthplace has had a stark effect on their outlook in this pandemic. If you become very sick from coronavirus in South Sudan and need to be ventilated, you will be relying on one of only a handful of ventilators serving a population of 12 million people. The UN predicts that nearly half of all existing jobs in Africa could be lost during the pandemic, and with no government furlough schemes to provide a safety net, hundreds of millions of people worldwide have fallen into extreme poverty.
Indeed, some of us face this pandemic with a much stronger boat than others.
This divide is seen particularly sharply in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Christian Aid has been working in the region since the early 1950s, when we first provided humanitarian relief to Palestinian refugees.
Life in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory was never ‘normal’ as we know it, with Palestinians in the region having already faced extreme restrictions on their movement for many years. With one of the highest population densities in the world, a devastating air, sea and land blockade and unemployment levels of nearly 50%, life in Gaza in particular was a daily struggle before the coronavirus pandemic hit last March.
Further restrictions to prevent coronavirus from spreading have resulted in more people losing vital income, making it even harder for families to put food on the table.
With Irish Aid support, Christian Aid’s local partner The Agricultural Development Association (PARC) has provided food parcels (pictured right) to 600 vulnerable families living in Gaza. Items such as fresh vegetables, lentils and olive oil were delivered directly to people’s homes, avoiding gatherings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The food was purchased from local small-scale farmers, local companies and women-led cooperatives, providing vital income during this time of increased economic hardship as well as ensuring produce at peak harvest season did not go to waste.
60-year-old widower Mona describes how the food parcel lifted her family’s spirits.
This project has enabled food suppliers to repay some of their debts, maintain production and support the fragile food supply chain in Gaza. With funding from Christian Aid’s coronavirus appeal, PARC has also supported 30 female dairy farmers in Gaza with cash grants of $900 each as the coronavirus restrictions have disrupted their ability to sell their milk.
Another partner, Women’s Affairs Center (WAC), has seen an increase in those at risk of sexual and physical violence during the pandemic. From the outset, WAC have been using radio and social media to provide women and girls in Gaza who have survived sexual and physical violence with information on the importance of regular hand washing and physical distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
They are running a social media campaign to raise awareness of the increased risk of violence during this time, and using technology – such as WhatsApp – to provide counselling and advice for those desperately in need. They are also sending online pamphlets to 8,000 women and girls in Gaza with information about coronavirus, the rights of women with disabilities, advice on motherhood and reproductive rights, as well as examples of the different types of violence that women can experience.
We have many more examples of the tenacity and dedication of our partners: B’Tselem is speaking out and continuing to expose human rights violations on the rise during the pandemic, Adalah is advocating for healthcare services to be provided to all citizens of Israel, and the Culture and Free Thought Association is providing online lessons, digital games and activities for children to help to keep their minds engaged whilst staying at home.
The Israeli government’s vaccine rollout continues apace, receiving international recognition for its ever-closer movement towards herd immunity and a total easing of restrictions. However, less than 1% of people in Gaza have received a vaccine, making the prospect of staying safe from this deadly virus resolutely out of reach for those living there. We continue to call for a fair and equitable vaccination programme that doesn’t leave Palestinians behind.
Christian Aid is committed to helping the poorest and most marginalised groups as they face the unequally distributed consequences of the global pandemic – providing hope to people in extremely stormy seas. We stand with vulnerable communities in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and beyond, for as long as we are needed. I hope you will, too.