Wed 29 Nov 2023 5:12 pm - Jerusalem Time
WHO: Diseases can kill more than bombs in Gaza due to the Israeli blockade
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that far more people could die from diseases than from bombing in the Gaza Strip if devastated health and sanitation systems are not repaired.
Vital infrastructure in the besieged Strip has been paralyzed due to a lack of fuel and supplies and attacks targeting hospitals and United Nations facilities since Israel launched its raids on Gaza on October 7.
In a statement, Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, said at a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday: “Ultimately, we will see more people dying from disease than from bombing if we cannot rebuild this health system.”
Harris described the collapse of Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza as a "tragedy" and expressed concern about Israeli forces detaining some medical staff there after seizing the complex earlier this month.
It also reiterated its concern about the rise in outbreaks of infectious diseases in Gaza, especially diarrheal diseases.
“There are no medicines, no vaccination activities, no access to safe water and hygiene and no food,” she said, citing a UN report on the living conditions of displaced residents in northern Gaza.
The risk of a widespread disease outbreak
All major sanitation services are said to have stopped working in the Gaza Strip, raising the possibility of a massive surge in gastrointestinal and infectious diseases among the local population - including cholera.
For Gaza's population of 2.3 million, half of whom are children, obtaining safe drinking water has become almost impossible, according to Harris.
The World Health Organization has recorded more than 44,000 cases of diarrhea and 70,000 cases of acute respiratory infections, but the real numbers may be much higher.
The UN health agency (WHO) said it was deeply concerned that rains and floods during the approaching winter would worsen an already bad situation.
International media quoted James Elder, spokesman for the United Nations Children's Agency in Gaza, as telling reporters via video link on Tuesday that hospitals were full of children suffering from war wounds and gastroenteritis due to drinking dirty water. He added: "They do not have access to safe water, and this paralyzes them."
It is noteworthy that Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean at the World Health Organization, said in a statement to Al Jazeera English earlier this month that if nothing changes, “there will be more and more people who become infected with the disease and the risk will increase.”
The Gaza Ministry of Health said that no fuel for generators had arrived at hospitals in the northern Strip despite the temporary truce agreement between Israel and Hamas, which was extended for two days (and was scheduled to expire on Tuesday morning).
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, warned that the humanitarian situation “remains catastrophic,” stressing that this “requires the urgent introduction of additional aid and supplies in a smooth, scheduled, announced and ongoing manner to alleviate the unbearable suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.”
Gaza City Mayor Yahya al-Sarraj told Al Jazeera English that without fuel, the area would not be able to pump clean water or remove waste accumulating in the streets, warning of a potential “disaster” for public health.
The cleaning process was underway at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. “We hope that it will be able to resume its activities soon,” said Mahmoud Hammad, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza.
The Israeli bombing led to the death of more than 14,800 Palestinians, including 6,150 children and more than 4,000 women, according to health authorities in the Strip.