After more than a month of the Israeli government’s unlawful blockade of Gaza, which has included catastrophic cuts to water, fuel, and electricity, as well as very limited deliveries of food, water, and medical supplies, 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.
On November 11, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said: “Every little girl and boy I met in an UNRWA shelter [in Gaza] asked me for bread and water.”
After October 7, 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, requiring many to rely on the local water supply. According to the UN however, more than 96 percent 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. The World Health Organization 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. On November 14, Human Rights Watch spoke to a doctor at al-Aqsa Hospital who reported that they were seeing a steep increase in cases of dehydration. The doctor added that “The number of gastroenteritis cases are uncountable.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also expressed grave concern that “[t]he death toll will increase exponentially… if children continue to drink unsafe water and have no access to medicine when they get sick.”
The Israeli government should 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.