Palestinians fall ill after drinking dirty water as aid blocked from entering Gaza

Rising cases of hepatitis and diarrhoea reported amid long queues to access water

Displaced Palestinians head to a water point to fill their jerricans in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. AFP
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Even before the closure of the Rafah border crossing, Gazans were facing an alarming humanitarian crisis, with the UN warning famine is edging ever closer.

Only a fraction of the required aid was being allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip. Now there is even less.

Almost 10 days have passed since Israel seized control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, a major point of entry for aid for the 2.3 million population, and many of Gaza's residents cannot find clean drinking water.

The UN says at least half of Gaza's water and sanitation facilities have been either "damaged or destroyed" and about 70 per cent of the people are now drinking decontaminated water.

A 25 year-old doctor displaced from Rafah to the so-called safe zone of Al Mawasi posted a video of his struggle merely to wash his hands.

"I hold this contaminated pot, pour contaminated water, and hold it again. It's like I never washed my hands," Dr Majed Jaber says in the post.

Speaking to The National, Dr Jaber said working washing machines were practically non-existent due to the lack of electricity, so people are having to wash everything by hand.

Cases of hepatitis A and diarrhoea are rising, he said, even within his own household.

Ali Abu Oda, a Palestinian man who has been displaced to Al Mawasi from Rafah, said he has to queue for hours for water that even then is not guaranteed to be clean.

"I am sure it's not clean because my sons got sick many times," he said.

The lack of fuel coming through the Rafah crossing has also meant lorries delivering water into Gaza are a rarity, he added. Moving water within Gaza has also become more difficult, and is now being delivered by donkey carts carrying barrels due to the shortage of fuel.

"Even then, the amount arriving is insufficient and not everyone [who queues up] has an opportunity to fill up," Kari Thabet, now living in the centre of the Gaza Strip in Deir Al Balah, told The National.

"Fuel is available but we face sewage problems which are widespread and there's no water to clean it, leading to the spread of disease, especially among children."

In northern Gaza, the situation is only marginally better, as the Karam Abu Salem border crossing has remained closed since May 5, with only a handful of lorries carrying flour and sugar being allowed through.

People have to wait in long queues and walk considerable distances to reach places with clean water, said Ziad Mousa, 27, one of a few people remaining in the north and who works for an NGO providing psychological support to stricken residents.

Speaking to The National, he said the water crisis extends to northern Gaza, too.

"The markets were starting to come alive a few weeks ago but died back down because there's very little coming through the Karam Abu Salem border."

Basic items such as canned food, chicken, rice and vegetables are scarce, or unavailable, he said.

"People are not dying from starvation, as much as they are from a lack of nutrition that's exacerbating diseases."

Additionally, illegal Israeli settlers have been seen destroying what little aid is coming through the Karam Abu Salem border, in footage widely circulated on social media.

"This is a systematic process besieging and cutting people off from what they need," Mr Mousa said. "And in the end, regardless of who is at war, it's the people who fall victim."

Updated: May 16, 2024, 3:05 PM