With Temperatures Soaring, Gazans Swelter in Makeshift Tents

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 shelter in a ramshackle tent in Deir al Balah, the family shivered during the bitterly cold nights, as there was no fuel to heat up and not enough clothes to stay warm.

Since then, the weather has turned hot and humid in the coastal Gaza Strip, and that same tent has become unbearable and suffocating.

“The tent feels like it’s on fire,” Ms. Arafat, 23, said. “It’s so hot you can’t bear it, especially with young children.” In her lap, Yahya, who is a year old, screamed in discomfort.

Nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza were forced to flee their homes under Israeli bombardment and military evacuation orders when the weather was cold, and the makeshift tents many found themselves living in provided little protection from the low temperatures. Faced with no heating fuel, Gazans chopped down many of the trees to burn for heating and for cooking.

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

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

The heat is exacerbating already dire problems from Israel’s war in Gaza. People are relying on water to keep cool when it is already in short supply and not easy to get, and the warm weather is bringing insects that help spread disease.

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

Ms. Arafat uses a piece of cardboard to fan her children and dampens their heads and limbs with what little water they have.

Along with warmer temperatures have come mosquitoes, ants and other bugs. At night, Ms. Arafat and her husband stay up and keep watch over their three children, worried that they will be bitten. Their tent is in an encampment in an open field and she fears even more dangerous threats like snakes.

Fadwa Abu Waqfa, a 37-year-old mother of three living in a tent in Rafah, remembers how even during peacetime, when her family was living with air conditioning, a fridge and cold water, they struggled to stand the Gazan heat.

She said the situation now is beyond words.

“We can’t sit outside and we can’t sit inside the tent,” she said. “It is so hard. It’s a heat that I can’t describe.”

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

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

“We are just praying for the mercy of God,” she said.

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