Vital services in Gaza including health, water and sanitation are on the brink of collapse, amid worsening food insecurity, international agencies warn, as the UN issues an urgent plea to Israel to grant safe access for humanitarian supplies.
“Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), at its East Jerusalem headquarters on Sunday.
“Soon, I believe, with this there will be no food or medicine either.
“There is not one drop of water, not one grain of wheat, not a litre of fuel that has been allowed into the Gaza Strip for the last eight days.”
On 7 October, Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked a number of locations inside Israel, taking hostages and prompting Israel to declare war on the group.
Hani Omar, a 33-year-old resident of Gaza City, told SciDev.Net via mobile phone: “We have been living for days without electricity, without water suitable for human use, with food shortages, and people sharing what they have to survive.”
According to the latest UN situation report, Palestinian Ministry of Health and other sources show that, in nine days, 2,329 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while the number of people killed in Israel has reached 1,300.
The UN report adds that over one million people – almost half the total population of Gaza – have been displaced.
“We left our homes with only some light, basic necessities,” says Amjad Majed, one of tens of thousands of Palestinians who have taken refuge in the grounds of Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa.
“We provide food to children and women, as much as possible, mostly food that we carried with us when we were displaced, but it will not be enough,” he told a SciDev.Net reporter in Ramallah.
Majed says he gets drinking water for his family from the compound, but there is “barely enough for the family to drink”. He has had little water or food for days, he says.
“A lot of men can’t find a place to sleep, they stay sitting or standing because of the overcrowding here,” Majed adds.
UN secretary-general António Guterres made an urgent humanitarian appeal late Sunday, calling on Israel to allow “rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid” into Gaza. He also urged Hamas to release all hostages immediately.
“Gaza is running out of water, electricity and other essential supplies,” he said.
“The United Nations has stocks available of food, water, non-food items, medical supplies and fuel, located in Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel.
“These goods can be dispatched within hours.”
Aid convoys are lined up at Egypt’s Rafah border — the only passage in and out of the Gaza Strip not controlled by Israel – but the crossing remains closed and Israel has so far refused entry through its borders.
Israeli energy minister Israel Katz said Thursday that no essential resources or humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza. “A switch will not be turned on, a water tap will not be turned on and a fuel truck will not enter,” he said.
Gaza was plunged into darkness after the only power plant in the Gaza Strip stopped operating last Wednesday after running out of fuel.
Um Youssef, 44, a resident of Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, told SciDev.Net via Facebook Messenger: “Before the current events, we used to get water from wells, which are now completely disrupted due to power cuts, as their work was dependent on generators to pump water from them.
“Now there has been no water or electricity for more than five days.
“We receive water from the municipality network for only two hours a day, and it is very weak.”
Escalating health risks
Salameh Maarouf, head of the government media office in the Gaza Strip, warned of potential epidemics and escalating health risks with authorities unable to provide services due to the damage to water and electricity networks, especially in light of the mass displacement towards the south of the Strip.
“The health system administration is on the verge of complete collapse,” he told SciDev.Net.
“The wounded in the emergency and intensive care departments have no place, and we cannot keep up with all the injured, especially with the lack of medicines and medical supplies, and the morgues’ refrigerators are full of martyrs.
He said entire buildings and neighbourhoods throughout the Strip had been destroyed, adding: “There is no safe place in Gaza.”
The Israeli army on Friday ordered the evacuation of the 1.1 million civilians living in Gaza City and the north of the Gaza Strip, including 22 hospitals.
The World Health Organization said the order was “tantamount to a death sentence” for the 2,000 patients who would be forced to move to health facilities in southern Gaza, already running at maximum capacity.
Mohammed al-Mughayir, director of the security and safety department at the Civil Defence in Gaza, said: “We are losing all the necessities of life in Gaza and we appeal to international and UN organisations to intervene quickly.
“Continuing the war means dying either from bombing, from water shortages, from hunger or from the expected health hazards,” he added.
People in Gaza are completely dependent on tinned food as fridges have been brought down by power outages, says Youssef, who has been charging her mobile phone at a nearby house with solar panels. There is no fresh food, she says, adding: “Vegetables are very expensive now, as farmers cannot reach their agricultural land for fear of bombing.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) said last week that while most shops in the affected areas currently have a month-long stock of food, this is at risk of being rapidly depleted as people stock up, fearing a protracted conflict.
WFP launched an emergency operation to provide critical food assistance to over 800,000 people in Gaza and the West Bank but says humanitarian corridors are essential to facilitate the entry of aid and humanitarian assistance.
About the authors:
- Qais Abu Samra writes for SciDev.Net
- Nehal Lasheen is the deputy editor of the Arabic edition of SciDev.Net for the MENA region. She is the president of the Arab Science Journalists Association.
Source: This article was produced by the SciDev.Net regional office for the Middle East and North Africa and edited for clarity.