Breathless in Gaza

By Ola Attallah

GAZA CITY – Six-year-old Ahmed was playing with his brother outside their Gaza house when his little face suddenly turned blue and he fell to the ground.
"Mom, dad, help," screamed his panicking brother Sami. "Ahmed is not breathing."

But the young kid is not the only person in the besieged Gaza Strip having a problem breathing.

Many people in the overcrowded coastal territory of nearly 1.6 million are experiencing respiratory problems due to the strange smell and burning orange glow of using cooking oil to run cars.

Faced with chronic fuel shortages due to the long-running Israeli blockade, Gaza drivers have been filling their tanks with cooking oil, producing noxious odors and wretched smell.

This endangers the immediate area and threatens the environment especially in such a densely populated area.

The Health Ministry has issued a stern warning.

"Mixing cooking oil with fuel in vehicles endangers the environment as well as people’s health," it said a recent statement.

"The smoke which is released from vehicles run by such a mixture of fuel causes cancer and pollutes the atmosphere."

But helpless Gazans say they have no other option.

"I am forced to use cooking oil. I can’t help it," Khaled Zaharna, a cap driver, told IOL.

"Driving is my only source of livelihood."

Israel has been closing the Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory last June.

It completely locked down the area in January, banning food and fuel shipment supplies, forcing the UNRWA to halt food aid to Gazans over the lack of fuel.

Hold Your Breath

Unable to handle the emanating wretched smell, many Gazans, young and old, are resorting to medical masks or covering their noses with their clothes.

"I was initially reluctant to use a mask, but when I started experiencing breathing problems while walking the streets, there was no other choice," Eiad Yasine, a college student, told IOL.

"I soon came to notice I was not alone. Look around, everyone is wearing a mask."

Pharmacies are reporting a huge demand on medical masks.

Samia al-Saqqa, a mother of four, bought masks for her children to wear on their way to school.

"They come from school feeling dizzy and sick."

Once Saqqa’s kids are home, they are forbidden from going out over fears of more exposure to the noxious fumes.

Lina, who is three-month pregnant, fears for her unborn baby.

"Even breathing has become a torture now that were are surrounded with toxic fumes and fatal diseases," she lamented.

"This is not fair."

Nafeth Hasouna is already suffering from chronic asthma.

Exposure to the noxious odors and wretched smell threats to worsen his health condition.

"It was not enough for the Israelis to block medication and drugs, now they do not want us even to breath."

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