Gaza faces health emergency as sewage water spills into populated areas

Gaza’s existing water shortage worsened by 40%, authority says

A Palestinian man walks through the ruins in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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The Palestinian Water Authority has reported a 40 per cent deficit in water supplies for Gaza’s population of two million people, after more than a week of Israeli air raids on the enclave.

Damage to Gaza's water infrastructure has resulted in untreated sewage water spilling into populated areas in the east, the UN children's fund told The National.

“Grey water, which has been used for purposes other than drinking, and sewage water is flowing into low-lying areas creating a hazard for the people living there,” said Damian Rance, Unicef communications spokesman in Palestine.

Israel blames Hamas, the militant movement that controls Gaza, for building military infrastructure in civilian areas.

"The rocket launchers are right next to homes, schools," an Israeli military official said on Monday.

"They’re always building next to these very sensitive sites in order for us to fall into this strategic trap.

"We are trying not to fall into these traps by being very accurate.”

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 15 wells and the North Gaza Seawater Desalination Plant have been affected, cutting supplies for 250,000 people.

“In Beit-Lahia, sewage and solid waste are accumulating in the streets,” Ocha said on Sunday.

The water authority said this could threaten 10,000 civilians living in eastern Beit-Lahia and the south of the village of Umm Nasr.

To address some of the issues, the UN is working with the water authority and building up supplies such as antibiotics and sanitation materials.

“We have stocks in Gaza in case an emergency like the current situation occurs,” Mr Rance said.

"Some urgent maintenance work has been carried out on the damaged facilities, but logistical and security issues remain."

There is "an imminent threat to personnel", he said.

"They are also unable to access some of the water-treatment and wastewater-treatment facilities that are nearer to the security fence with Israel to run them."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it also had access problems because of the “steady stream of bombardments” that stopped it providing humanitarian aid in Gaza.

At least 38,000 people have been displaced in Gaza since the escalation between Hamas and Israel began. Most are seeking shelter in schools run by the UN.

“This overcrowding can create situations where the coronavirus has more potential to spread,” Mr Rance said.

The water authority said the worsening situation in Gaza was likely to affect supplies of water in hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.

“Most hospitals have running water as far as we are aware," Mr Rance said.

"But a scenario where the water supply to these facilities is impacted may very well take place in the near future."

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 49 children, and 1,035 people wounded.

In Israel, 10 people have been killed, including eight from rocket attacks.