A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
In a moment Sabri Bakr’s future was blown to smithereens. Israeli airstrikes on Gaza’s port smashed his new boat and destroyed his fishing gear. The loss of a boat and nets when so many have lost their lives may seem trivial but for Sabri, and for 3,600 fishermen in a similar fate, this is going to have long term impact on his ability to feed his family.
"My boat and nets were completely burnt. To make things worse, it was a new boat and I haven't paid the loan for it yet. It cost me around $10,000," say Sabri. "I've been working as a fisherman for ever. Fishing is the only thing I know in life and it's been the sole source of income for me and the 16 members of my extended family."
A heavy toll
This is not the first blow Sabri has had to endure, and years of restrictions have taken a heavy toll. Since Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza in 2007 fishermen have only been allowed to fish just six nautical miles or less off shore. With most of the fish at least nine miles out at sea, they have already been struggling to make a living and now 90 percent of them need international aid. Oxfam is working to support fishermen with equipment and technical advice.
"Before this military operation started, the situation was already very bad," says Sabri. "My old boat and fishing nets were confiscated by the Israeli navy in 2012. So I had to borrow money from others to buy new ones. Six nautical miles is not enough at all to have fair quantities of fish. All of this has had a great impact on our economic situation."
"Like a bad joke"
Even when fishing within the six mile restriction fishermen face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen - nearly as many as in all of 2013.
In early July, the Israeli government announced the fishing zone will be further restricted to just three miles from the shore. "It is like a bad joke," says Sabri. "What would you get within three miles? Nothing."
"Before I was still able to get 20 to 40 shekels ($6-12) from fishing every day. Now my boat is gone I have nothing at all. I really do not know what will I do now, or how I will even provide food to my children.”
Gaza's fishermen have been struggling to make a living for years. Restrictions on their movement and livelihoods have taken a heavy toll, and the latest escalation in violence has only made things worse.
A long-term ceasefire
For the sake of Sabri and other civilians caught up in this crisis, Oxfam is calling on both sides in this conflict to urgently agree a long-term ceasefire and an end the violence. The new escalation is just the latest in a long line of challenges for civilians living under the blockade of Gaza.
To bring real peace and genuine security for all, what is needed is a long-term solution to the problem. As well as an immediate ceasefire, there needs to be an end to the blockade and restrictions that prevent civilians like Sabri from providing for his family.
By Arwa Mhanna, Oxfam Media and Communications Officer in Gaza