In Gaza, babies have no more nappies, milk, as Israeli bombing continues

A shortage of nappies because of Israel’s blockade has led to prices skyrocketing and mothers looking for alternatives.

Babies bring joy, but these Gaza families cannot find even the basics to take care of them [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

By Maram Humaid

Deir el-Balah, Gaza – On a cold night three weeks ago, Aida al-Baawi rushed from the makeshift tent she had made home to the town’s nearby Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and, amid the ongoing war, gave birth to her daughter.

The birth was a struggle because of a shortage of medical staff to care for her and not enough anaesthesia to mask the pain of receiving stitches.

Her baby girl was born healthy, and a whole new struggle started for 29-year-old al-Baawi as she started searching endlessly for a necessity many mothers take for granted: nappies.

Securing nappies has become al-Baawi’s most daunting challenge, like many mothers in Gaza, as prices skyrocket for the items made scarce by the siege imposed by Israel.

“Every day is a struggle to afford nappies for my baby girl, especially with another child who still needs them,” the mother of four told Al Jazeera.

For al-Baawi to buy two packs of nappies before the war would have cost less than $10, but that is no longer the case.

“Imagine needing $75 to $80 just for nappies,” she said. “Is this a sustainable situation?”

Al-Baawi has had to turn to other solutions. Sometimes she heads to the nursery of a nearby hospital, hoping that they will have some to spare.

hands holding a baby and one nappy

Finding even one nappy is an incredible struggle for parents of babies in Gaza [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Other times she dries used nappies in the sun, hoping to reuse them despite the hygiene implications.

And sometimes she is forced to leave her baby in her soiled nappy until she can get more, which inevitably takes a toll on the baby’s delicate skin.

But every cent al-Baawi spends on nappies is a cent less for other necessities. “If nappies are this expensive, how can I afford any other supplies? My children and I have only eaten one meal since yesterday evening.”

‘Can’t even buy food’

Needless to say, where nappies are scarce, baby formula will be too.

Nariman Abu al-Saud gave birth to a daughter on October 9, two days after the war began.

“At the current prices, I can’t even buy food for my children,” she said.

“My baby daughter gets awful skin infections because I can’t get nappies,” she said. “There’s no baby formula even.”

“Providing milk and nappies has become hell for us.

“This war is a war on our children and their lives. What did they do to have to endure such conditions?”

With the vast majority of Gaza’s population displaced and desperately needed aid only trickling in, health officials have reported that 20 people in the enclave have died from malnutrition and dehydration.

The World Food Programme said on Tuesday that Israel must allow road access to northern Gaza to avoid famine, highlighting how desperate the situation is.

Searching for substitutes

People have been driven to trying alternatives for the scarce nappies.

Local factories are making nappy substitutes using available raw materials, such as tissue paper, medical cotton batting, cloth and nylon.

Yousef Darwish, a worker making nappies, explained that the price of locally made nappies is similar to the pre-war price.

“There is a lot of demand from families even though these nappies are not as good … and are not manufactured according to health specifications,” Darwish said.

But even this alternative may not last as raw materials are dwindling, Darwish pointed out.

“We’re depleting our existing supplies, and with border closures since the war’s outbreak, these resources are on the verge of running out,” he said, referring to the severe limits on the entry of aid to Gaza imposed by Israel.

“We’re always looking for solutions from scratch in Gaza. But how much longer can mothers and children endure the scarcity and inflated prices of nappies? The situation has become unbearable.”

Woman holding up a cotton garment that she will cut into nappies

Shinar’s mother-in-law is cutting up clothes to create makeshift nappies [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Shaima Shinar, who gave birth to her first child during the war, has also had to turn to alternatives. Her mother-in-law is cutting up clothes to turn them into nappies.

“I have no choice. It is not easy because the fabric isn’t comfortable, it causes skin irritations and abrasions,” she told Al Jazeera. “I also need to wash it constantly. As you can see, we live in a tent and there’s no water.”

Shinar fled from Gaza City to Deir el-Balah to escape the fighting. She had been on a short visit to Egypt only two weeks before the conflict began, not knowing that the timing of her return would be disastrous for herself and her then-unborn child.

“I never imagined in my life that my child would be born in such conditions,” Shinar said. “How can I not be able to provide nappies for my child? Not be able to put him in a clean bed and a clean place instead of this cold tent?”

“My child is suffering in all aspects,” she added. “Currently, he has a cold and I can’t buy medicine, and there are no clothes or nappies.”

The new mother explained that she often wanders between institutions looking for any assistance but to no avail.

“Yesterday, my baby ran out of milk. I went to one of the tents to get two spoons of milk to satisfy his hunger.

“We, the adults, can bear it, but what about the children?”

washing clothes in a little cooking pot with a tiny bit of dirty water

There’s little to no water available in the displacement camps, making washing even cloth nappies a difficult process [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]