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Gaza: 5 months of darkness, seen from 500 miles above earth

Satellite images showing the progressive darkness in Gaza over the five months of conflict. All satellite images: Origin Space Co. Ltd, China/CARE

Satellite images showing the progressive darkness in Gaza over the five months of conflict. All satellite images: Origin Space Co. Ltd, China/CARE

A new CARE analysis of satellite images has revealed how the five months of brutal conflict in Gaza have plunged the people there into literal darkness.

The research, led by Dr. Xi Li of the Laboratory for Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing at Wuhan University, shows how Gaza’s cities have experienced an enormous decrease in electricity, with nighttime light in the Gaza Strip reduced by a staggering 84%.

The progressive darkness in Gaza over the five months of conflict.

Satellite image from before the Oct. 7, 2023 escalation
Satellite image from Oct. 21, 2023
Satellite image from Jan. 1, 2024

“Satellite imagery offers the most impartial view of the massive devastation in Gaza,” Dr. Li said.

“Our images, taken from 500 miles above the earth, show the destruction and suffering children, women, and men in Gaza must endure. In Gaza City, the worst affected area, the lights have been almost completely switched off.”

Hundreds of displaced Palestinians have erected makeshift shelters out of wooden two-by-fours and nylon tarps in Rafah city, near the border with Egypt. Photo: Grayscale/CARE

The research shows how Gaza City has witnessed the largest reduction in nighttime light, with a 91% decrease. In Rafah, where over 1.2 million Palestinians have fled to, 70% of the lights have gone off.

Power outages and the breakdown of Gaza’s infrastructure reflected by these images is particularly concerning to aid groups working in the area’s desperately needed and rapidly deteriorating healthcare system.

The number of hospitals with little or no nighttime light was at around 70%, with power outages being particularly severe in Gaza City and North Gaza.

“We have never seen a humanitarian crisis like this,” CARE CEO Michelle Nunn wrote in The Hill.

“Gaza is completely walled in and cut off, without sufficient food, water or regular communication. Experts say people in North Gaza are on the brink of famine. Disease is spreading, few hospitals are even partially functioning and there is little to no basic medicine or supplies. Even lifesaving cancer and diabetes drugs have been repeatedly blocked.”

A Palestinian man holds his baby while sitting on the debris of his house after it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Grayscale/CARE

The plight of women and children in Gaza, who make up 70% of the internally displaced people, is especially distressing to aid groups like CARE.

Reports indicate an increase in maternal and infant deaths, while cases of diarrhea among children under five have increased by 2,000%. Over 330,000 people struggle with acute respiratory infections.

“Behind all these numbers, behind all these facts, are real people,” says Hiba Tibi, CARE Country Director in the West Bank.

“Faces of crying children who are mourning their parents, eyes of mothers empty as they have lost their babies and cannot imagine how the world can continue without them, shaking bodies of fathers trying to find their sons and daughters under the rubble after yet another airstrike.”

Dispålaced Palestinians walk past piles of garbage that pose a threat of sparking an environmental catastrophe in a makeshift camp in the town of Tal al-Sultan near the Egyptian border in Southern Gaza. Photo: Grayscale/CARE

While some electricity sources were cut off in the beginning of the escalation, Gaza’s single power plant in Deir al-Balah ran out of fuel mid-October. The lack of back-up generators has shut down bakeries, hospitals, water pumps, and other key services such as sewage treatment facilities.

“As this war continues, we try to find new words to capture what is unfolding,” Tibi went on.

“We try to find ways of describing what people in Gaza are going through, hoping that our accounts will finally bring an end to the bloodshed. Five months since the beginning of the latest war, we are at a crossroads, holding our breath for what is coming next.”

CARE commissioned Dr. Xi Li to conduct this analysis of satellite imagery of Gaza. He used remote sensing images to evaluate the evolution of the conflict in Gaza, by comparing the levels of light in September 2023 and a series of images taken between October 2023 and January 2024. CARE had previously commissioned Dr. Xi Li for similar analyses related to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

“Only an immediate ceasefire by all parties, the release of the hostages and the urgent restoration of humanitarian and commercial assistance can change this picture."

Michelle Nunn

Since the escalation of the conflict, the CARE team in Gaza was able to reach over 250,000 vulnerable displaced people with hygiene kits, shelter items such as blankets and mattresses, and drinking water. CARE also reached over 67,000 people with medical support, including medications, medical supplies, and primary health services.

CARE has been operating in Gaza and the West Bank since 1948. Prior to the current conflict, we were supporting about 200,000 Palestinians in Gaza and we continue to support about 300,000 in the West Bank to meet basic food needs, improve farming and agriculture, empower women to earn an income, support women’s leadership, and improve health programs focused on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and children’s mental health.

A line of people pass bags of supplies to the door of a building.
On January 26, 2024, CARE, in collaboration with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), distributed 1,000 hygiene kits to three shelters for displaced people in Gaza City. This was the first time in three months that such a distribution could take place in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Photo: Grayscale/CARE

“Americans have a particular role and responsibility in this crisis,” Nunn writes.

“Many of the ‘dumb bombs’ that have caused so much death and destruction were built in and provided by the United States. Three times, the U.S. has vetoed ceasefire resolutions before the United Nations Security Council.

“This is a defining moment in America’s and the global community’s moral history. What we do — or don’t do — now will be etched in time, determining life and death for thousands of people and the future arc of the Middle East.”

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