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HRW: Israel cutting Gaza's water causing public health crisis

November 20, 2023 at 1:35 pm

Palestinians, including children, waiting to get clean water from mobile tanks as the Israeli attacks continue in Rafah, Gaza on November 13, 2023. [Abed Rahim Khatib – Anadolu Agency]

The lack of clean water is resulting in “grave concerns” by public health experts of an imminent infectious disease outbreak in Gaza, including waterborne illnesses like cholera and typhoid, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned.

A statement released by the rights group said after 7 October, “the Israeli government shut off the pipes that supply Gaza with water. It has since only resumed piping water to some parts of southern Gaza while some water has entered via Egypt, but it’s not reaching everyone and is not nearly enough to meet the needs of Gaza’s population.”

According to the UN, more than 96 per cent of the water supply in Gaza is “unfit for human consumption.” Wastewater and desalination facilities were shut down in mid-October due to fuel and electricity shortages and have been largely inoperable since, according to the Palestinian Water Authority.

Since the start of the blockade, water shortages and contamination have severely impeded health care access, made people sick, and have already led to the outbreak of diseases, creating a public health crisis.

“Healthcare facilities cannot operate without clean water,” HRW stressed, pointing out that the World Health Organisation has reported that “damaged water and sanitation systems, and dwindling cleaning supplies have made it almost impossible to maintain basic infection prevention and control measures” in health facilities, and consumption of contaminated water has significantly increased the risk of bacterial infections like diarrhea, with over half of reported cases in children under five.

It said its team had spoken to a doctor at Al-Aqsa Hospital who reported that they were seeing a steep increase in cases of dehydration. The doctor added: “The number of gastroenteritis cases are uncountable.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed grave concern that the “death toll will increase exponentially… if children continue to drink unsafe water and have no access to medicine when they get sick.”

HRW urged Israel to “immediately end its total blockade of the Gaza Strip, an act of collective punishment and a war crime, restore water and electricity access, and allow desperately needed food, medical aid, and fuel into Gaza, including via its crossing at Kerem Shalom.”

Watch: Luke Brooks calls parents around the world to act to save Gaza’s children