GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday it was stepping up emergency aid to Gaza, where Israel’s military offensive has made water shortages worse and stoked fears of more sewage contamination and water-borne diseases.
U.N. aid agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross Tuesday warned that after years of Gaza’s water system deteriorating, damage from the attacks meant the whole coastal strip was facing a water crisis within days.
“We are still very concerned about the water supply in Gaza, about half of the population are without water supply at this time,” U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman, Amanda Pitt, told a news briefing in Geneva.
Some 1,600 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged, displacing nearly 10,000 people, Pitt said. More than 22,000 people have sought refuge in 24 facilities of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, she said.
At least 59 Palestinian children are among the over 200 dead, U.N. Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Chris Tidey said. “Child casualties include 43 boys and 16 girls aged between 1 and 17 years,” he told Reuters.
“Our plan is to distribute food for 85,000 people. We have already distributed emergency food for 20,000 since the conflict erupted, in addition to the 600,000 we regularly assist with food, together with UNRWA,” U.N.’s World Food Program’s Elisabeth Byrs.
Only 50 percent of sewage pumping and waste-water treatment systems are believed to be operational and 900,000 people lack any water supply, UNICEF’s Tidey said.
“We are already scaling up water tankering to communities whose water has been completely cut-off, and provision of bottled water and hygiene materials,” he told reporters.
Outbreaks of water-borne diseases are feared in the crowded unhygienic conditions in Gaza’s summer heat, agencies said.
“Definitely we are worried about outbreak of disease, especially diarrhoea can occur in this part of the Middle East if there is no access to potable water and the sanitation system is not in order,” World Health Organisation spokeswoman, Fadela Chaib, said.
“For an infant or young child, diarrhoea can be a fatal disease ... A child can die within hours if there is lack of water and dehydration,” she said.