Palestinians in Gaza surviving on less than 500ml of water a day, NGOs warn

Minimum international standard for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning is 15 litres per person

Displaced Palestinians queue for water at a camp near the city of Deir Al Balah, in central Gaza. AFP
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People in Gaza are surviving on as little as 3 per cent of the minimum daily water needs, leading to severe public health risks at a time of decreasing aid deliveries, the International Rescue Committee and Medical Aid for Palestinians warned.

The NGOs called for international action to address the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn enclave that has increased since Israel launched a military incursion into Rafah, closing a key border crossing and forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee to overcrowded camps in other areas.

“The international community must do everything they can to halt Israel’s assault on Rafah and across Gaza, and avert a further health and humanitarian catastrophe,” Melanie Ward, MAP’s chief executive, said on Wednesday.

Acute watery diarrhoea among children is on the rise as the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation facilities have pushed families to rely on unsafe water sources and to build their own latrines.

One shelter housing 10,000 people receives only 4,000 litres of water a day, the NGOs said, which means less than half a litre per person daily for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning.

The minimum international standard is 15 litres of water per person daily.

In shelters in central Gaza, the NGOs found that on average, 600 people are sharing a single cubicle which is 30 times more people than the minimum standard.

“When I was in Rafah last month, I saw literal lakes of human waste which have accumulated right beside tents, where children and their families are trying to survive,” Ms Ward said.

Doctors at a hospital visited during the trip expressed concerns about the rapid spread of infections as facilities lack adequate cleaning supplies such as soap. Skin diseases, dehydration and diarrhoea are on the rise, including among children below the age of five.

The UN has said that at least half of Gaza’s water and sanitation facilities have been either damaged or destroyed and that more 70 per cent of the population is drinking unsafe water.

The NGOs said they were deeply concerned about the impact on health from the closure of the Rafah crossing, limited hospital services and the displacement of more than 800,000 people in just the last week.

The lack of clean water and hygiene products in the market have made it almost impossible to maintain basic sanitary standards and aid deliveries have been hampered by heavy fighting and Israeli restrictions.

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday accused Israel of using “starvation as a method of warfare” by denying Gazans ready access to food and water.

The UN suspended food distribution in Rafah due to lack of supplies and security concerns caused by Israel’s military operation.

Warehouses in Rafah have become “inaccessible due to ongoing military operations”, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said on Tuesday.

The World Food Programme said it was running out of food supplies for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought shelter.

“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa said.

A floating pier built by the US military was supposed to provide an alternative route for aid but deliveries were paused after several lorries carrying supplies from the pier to a distribution centre were intercepted by hungry Gaza residents.

“Some of that initial aid that was brought in, as it was being taken along the transportation route, was intercepted by some people who took that aid off those vehicles,” Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Pat Ryder told reporters.

Maj Gen Ryder sad that new routes had been set up and that aid delivery resumed on Tuesday, but there was no confirmation from the UN.

Mr Dujarric told reporters that the aid convoys do not have armed security, saying that in order to ensure deliveries via the pier, humanitarian groups need to be provided with the conditions to operate safely.

The Israeli military has continued its military offensive over the past 24 hours across multiple areas of Gaza where Palestinians had been instructed to take refuge. In a town in central Gaza, at least 10 people were killed, according to Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Attacks also continued in northern Gaza where at least six people were killed and six injured in a strike on Jabalia refugee camp.

Injuries were also reported in an Israeli artillery strike in southern Rafah city.

Updated: June 13, 2024, 12:51 PM