More people in Gaza will die from “disease than from bombardment” if the deteriorating health system isn’t fixed, the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday.
Nearly 2 million displaced Palestinians in overcrowded conditions are without access to medicines, vaccines, clean water and food, leading to a high risk of gastrointestinal diseases and respiratory infections.
The WHO has recorded more than 44,000 cases of diarrhea and 70,000 acute respiratory infections in Gaza, though actual figures may be significantly higher.
A six-day truce between Israel and Hamas is “simply not enough” time to provide food and water to Gaza, where women and children are at “a high risk of famine,” a World Food Program director warned. While the fragile pause in fighting has allowed the WFP to deliver food to Gaza for the first time in weeks, “the people of Gaza have to eat every day, not just for six days,” the director said. Israel and its major allies, including the U.S., have resisted repeated calls from humanitarian organizations for a total ceasefire, amid estimates that at least 6,000 children have been killed in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack, and around 4,000 are missing.
The start of the rainy season in Gaza has stoked fears of flooding that could overwhelm sewage systems and exacerbate the spread of diseases. Hospitals in Gaza are filled with wounded children who are sick from gastroenteritis after drinking dirty water, one UN official said. Aid agencies and health officials in Gaza have expressed concern about the lack of fuel reaching the enclave even during the truce, preventing residents from being able to pump clean water and clear waste accumulated on the streets.
The U.S. is calling on Israel’s planned military offensive in southern Gaza — now home to nearly 2 million who were displaced from the north — to provide greater protection for civilians and crucial infrastructure, Reuters reports. Relaying the message from President Joe Biden, one U.S. official told reporters: “You cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north, replicated in the south. It will be beyond disruptive, it will be beyond the capacity of any humanitarian support network. It can’t happen.” Aid agencies are also fearful that Palestinians sheltering in the south would be forced into Egypt amid critical shortages of food and water, the Guardian reports.