Gaza’s fuel shortage, poor sanitation ‘perfect storm for tragedy’: UN

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Fuel shortages and worsening sanitation in the Gaza Strip are shaping up to be the perfect storm for tragedy through the spread of disease, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.

UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said there was a serious threat of a mass disease outbreak in the besieged Palestinian territory.

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“Without enough fuel, we will see the collapse of sanitation services. So we have then, on top of the mortars and the bombs, a perfect storm for the spread of disease.

“It’s a perfect storm for tragedy,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told a press briefing in Geneva.

“We have a desperate lack of water, fecal matter strewn across densely populated settlements, an unacceptable lack of latrines, and severe, severe restraints on hand-washing, personal hygiene and cleaning.”

The aftermath of a strike at a UN-run school sheltering displaced people, November 4, 2023. (File photo: Reuters)
The aftermath of a strike at a UN-run school sheltering displaced people, November 4, 2023. (File photo: Reuters)

Speaking via video-link from Cairo, Elder said the potential for wider loss of life in Gaza was being significantly exacerbated because an estimated 800,000 children in the enclave are displaced from their homes.

“If children’s access to water and sanitation in Gaza continues to be restricted and insufficient, we will see a tragic yet entirely avoidable surge in the number of children dying,” said Elder.

“It’s also important to note it’s starting to rain in Gaza. Now combined, children face a serious threat of mass disease outbreak. This, of course, would be lethal.”

Israel has launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ October 7 attacks, killing more than 13,300 Palestinians, thousands of them children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Children stand next to a tent as displaced Palestinians shelter in a tent camp, November 15, 2023. (Reuters)
Children stand next to a tent as displaced Palestinians shelter in a tent camp, November 15, 2023. (Reuters)

Israel also cut off supplies of water, electricity, fuel and food to the impoverished and densely populated territory.

UNICEF is particularly concerned about the risk of a cholera outbreak in the Gaza Strip, fearing an exponential rise in child deaths if an outbreak was to strike.

Cholera, which has not so far been detected in Gaza, is contracted from a bacterium that is generally transmitted through contaminated food or water.

It causes diarrhea and vomiting, and can be especially dangerous for young children.

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