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Sedatives and societal violence: The climate crisis slowly preying on the lives of Gazans

Sedatives and societal violence: The climate crisis slowly preying on the lives of Gazans

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Life Women’s Rights Environment

Friday 6 October 202305:11 pm
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عقاقير مهدئة وعنف مجتمعي... أزمة المناخ تفترس حياة الغزّيين


In recent months, I've been regularly visiting a pharmacy in Gaza to purchase heart medications for my father. During each visit, I've encountered a middle-aged man who routinely purchases sedatives without a prescription. Curious, I approached him one day to ask him about the reasons behind this practice.

The answer, to me, wasn't entirely justified. However, for a citizen living in the besieged Gaza Strip, he might have his own logical motivations and rationale. He explained this to me while wiping sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief and puffing on his cigarette.

"I take sedatives almost daily to avoid anger, tension, and to cope with the daily pressures I experience. I am a citizen living under abnormal conditions – high temperatures, extreme humidity, no air conditioning, no electricity, and no work. Plus, constant disputes with my wife. What more can you expect?" That's how Assem Hassan summarized his daily life briefly.

A single stroll through the alleyways of the camps and homes of Gazans during the summer reveals the extent of suffering and turmoil they endure.

Assem lives in a house no larger than eighty square meters, nestled among the alleys of the Jabalia refugee camp. The house is ill-equipped to deal with the summer heat, with a corrugated tin roof that's corroded by moisture. He is a father of five children and spends most of his time at home, describing the humanitarian situation as "hellish."

He tells Raseef22, "Hardly a day goes by without conflicts between me, my wife, and my children. The high temperatures and pressures create a constant environment of tension. We're all boiling, and I try to avoid conflicts to prevent any violence I might regret later, even if the side effects of sedatives are negative."

Tiny houses

Cramped living spaces, resembling closed boxes, can be seen throughout Gaza, particularly in refugee camps. They are ill-prepared to handle any climate disturbances that lead to rising temperatures. A single summer visit to the camp alleys and Gaza homes reveals the amount of suffering and turmoil experienced by the residents. Sometimes, you hear the cries of children, and at other times, the sounds of family disputes. Moreover, there is a lack of free entertainment venues; most entertainment places by the sea require payment for entry.

So, most families opt to stay at home rather than venture out for recreation, increasing the chances of friction among family members, giving rise to social violence. As Assem puts it, "The accumulating burdens of life shift our priorities towards securing food and drink, often causing us to overlook any form of entertainment. This causes increased psychological pressure. On hot days, my wife and children asked me to take them to the beach to enjoy some cool sea breeze and a short respite from sitting at home for too long. I refuse because I can't afford it, leading to heated arguments between us."

Much like Assem, many Gazans experienced heightened tension and mood swings this summer. Rather than considering seeking a psychologist, they resorted to purchasing sedatives secretly, fearing the social stigma associated with mental health issues.

"I take sedatives daily to avoid anger, tension, and to cope with the everyday pressures I face. I am a citizen living under abnormal conditions – high temperatures, extreme humidity, no air conditioning, no electricity, and no work. What do you expect?"

Physiological effects

Commenting on this, psychiatrist Khaled Dahlan points out that several overlapping factors influence human behavior, especially during the summer in Gaza. Some people exhibit mood swings, aggression, and tension for various reasons, including genetic, hereditary, societal, and livelihood factors. Environmental factors, recurring wars, and climate fluctuations, whether rising or falling temperatures, also play a role.

He elaborates, "High temperatures affect the body's hormones, leading to disturbed behaviors and violent reactions, particularly since some of Gaza's residents already suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders due to the frequent wars within close intervals."

He points out that, in general, men are more susceptible to hormonal changes influenced by temperature than women. Therefore, some men may become more aggressive, and the chances of nervous breakdowns and anxiety over trivial matters increase, especially if the body rapidly loses water, leading to elevated body temperature.

Dahlan explains that some of the affected individuals resort to deceiving their brains by taking sedatives, which temporarily stimulate pleasure centers, giving the person a momentary improvement in mood and a sense of calm and relaxation. However, he warns against taking sedatives that can lead to addiction. After a period of adaptation, the brain rejects small doses, increasing the person's need for larger doses, leading to uncontrollable consequences.

Recent studies indicate that exposure to extremely hot weather increases people's tendencies toward aggressive behavior, as well as higher rates of violent crimes such as murder and rape during the summer. This summer was the hottest ever recorded, according to reports. For Gazans who prioritize their political, social, and economic issues, the global climate crisis adds complexity to their lives, as they are ill-equipped to deal with it given the complex reality they live in.

Recent studies indicate that exposure to extremely hot weather increases people's tendencies toward aggressive behavior, as well as higher rates of violent crimes such as murder during the summer

Double discrimination against women

The climate conditions in Gaza are not just an environmental crisis, with their consequences affecting Palestinian society and families, especially women. The effects of rising temperatures in an area that used to have a moderate climate appear harsher on women. For example, some are forced to wear low-quality clothing that increases their body heat. However, these clothes must align with their families' conservative customs and traditions. Others are compelled to cook using firewood during the scorching summer, and they face discrimination in the use of ventilation sources.

Soha Kamal, a 27-year-old woman, expresses deep embarrassment regarding her body when wearing comfortable summer clothes. Such attire is considered inappropriate by her very conservative family. If she goes out, she is required to wear the traditional "jalabiya." As a result, she prefers to spend most of her time in her room, limiting her participation in any social or family activities during the summer.

She tells Raseef22, "Climate disruptions have exacerbated our crises as women, as we live in a society dominated by conservative norms. On a personal level, I cannot exercise even the most basic rights that are commensurate with the climate conditions. I face restrictions on my clothing; I'm required to dress modestly even when I'm at home. Similarly, when it comes to getting access to means of ventilation, like electric fans, priority goes to my younger brothers. We only have one fan controlled by the males, and if I try to get it, especially at night, we end up fighting, and I have even faced violence whenever I stood my ground."

Soha, who lives in the Khaza'a region on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, feels like a victim of challenging living conditions, economic challenges, and climate-related burdens that have increased her responsibilities in caring for her family. In addition to the discrimination she faces, she sometimes has to help her mother cook using a clay oven instead of gas because her family is going through tough economic circumstances, increasing their reliance on alternative energy sources.

"As women in Gaza, we need economic empowerment first, followed by social empowerment and the creation of an environment that treats us fairly. This would make us more resilient in the face of disasters and crises, be they wars, blockades, or climate-related crises," says Soha, who lives in a besieged geographic area where the climate crisis is undeniably evident.

A study released in 2022 by the Atlas Center for Research and Studies in Gaza, titled "Gaza Strip and the Climate Crisis," reveals that the average temperatures during the summer and transitional seasons will increase in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the summer will lengthen at the expense of winter, and the average temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees by 2050. This predicts more suffering for Gaza's residents, given their deteriorating living conditions and limited infrastructure.

"I face restrictions on my clothing; I'm required to dress modestly even when I'm at home. We also only have one fan controlled by the males. Priority goes to my younger brothers, and if I try to use it, we end up fighting, and I've even faced violence if I insist"

Promoting a culture of psychological treatment

Nour Shama, an expert in environmental issues and their relationship with social services, offers some advice for facing the climate crisis and its repercussions on Gazans in the context of rising temperatures. Her suggestions include engaging in community activities such as sports, painting, arts and crafts, and music, as these significantly help dissipate negative energy, tension, and anxiety, especially for individuals who experience disorders that worsen with rising temperatures. She also emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated and spending time by the sea.

In her conversation with Raseef22, Shama highlights the need to promote a culture of consultation or psychological therapy without the usual societal stigma, especially if someone is suffering from specific disorders triggered by high temperatures.

She urges community institutions to establish initiatives to address the climate crisis, raise awareness among citizens on how to deal with it without discrimination, provide food security for impoverished families, and develop strategies to protect women from violence, especially violence stemming from climate-related disruptions.

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