Gaza health situation a ‘perfect storm for tragedy’: UN

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Displaced Palestinians take shelter in a UN school in Bureij in the central Gaza Strip, on November 21, 2023. (AFP)
  • Key mediator Qatar, Israeli PM, US President Joe Biden and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh say a deal on the release of Palestinian prisoners and Israeli hostage likely to materialize.
  • Fifty-three journalists and media workers have been killed in the latest Gaza conflict, according to a tally by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Geneva, Switzerland — Fuel shortages, a lack of water and worsening sanitation in Gaza, along with attacks on health care and mass displacement, are creating “a perfect storm for tragedy”, the UN warned Tuesday.

Here are some key numbers highlighted by the United Nations:

Impact on children

Israel’s relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, including at least 5,600 children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that already around 160 children are killed every day in Gaza, and the UN children’s agency UNICEF warned that the number could skyrocket.

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

Dire water shortages, sanitation breakdown
Elder said the daily minimum need in emergency situations was 15 liters (four gallons) of water per person, for drinking, hygiene and cooking, but that in parts of Gaza as little as three liters per day is available, and none on some days.

“We have then a perfect storm for the spread of disease,” he said, pointing to “a desperate lack of water, faecal matter strewn across densely-populated settlements (and) an unacceptable lack of latrines.”

He stressed the urgent need for sufficient fuel to be allowed into the territory, among other things, to get water pumps, desalination stations and waste management working again.

After weeks of no fuel entering Gaza, an agreement has been reached to allow 70,000 litres per day, but the UN says 200,000 litres are needed daily for humanitarian operations.

Overcrowded shelters
More than 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are estimated to be internally displaced within the enclave — nearly half of them children, the UN said Tuesday.

Nearly 900,000 of those displaced are staying in severely overcrowded shelters run by UNRWA, the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees.

On average, there are 700 people to one shower unit and 150 people to a toilet in those shelters, Elder said.

The WHO said last week that only 10 of the territory’s 36 hospitals were still functioning, with the situation deteriorating since then. It said Monday there are no functioning hospitals in northern Gaza.

WHO said it had been asked by health personnel to help evacuate three non-functioning hospitals in the north: Al-Shifa and Al-Ahli in Gaza City and the Indonesian hospital near the Jabalia refugee camp.

The WHO, which has described Al-Shifa as a “death zone”, helped evacuate 31 premature babies on Saturday.

But WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Tuesday that two others had died prior to the evacuation.

Three of the evacuated babies were at a hospital in southern Gaza, while 28 arrived in Egypt on Monday.

Lindmeier said Tuesday that the WHO was making plans to bring out the remaining 200 patients and 50 health workers still stuck in Al-Shifa.

He said around 180 babies were born every day in Gaza, with more than 20 needing specialised care.

Spread of disease
WHO warned that Gaza’s health system was struggling to cope amid an influx of casualties and sharp increases in diseases.

More than 72,000 cases of upper respiratory infections had been detected in displacement shelters, Lindmeier said.

There had also been nearly 49,000 cases of diarrhoea among children under five — 31 times the monthly average.

Cases of scabies, lice, chicken pox and skin rashes are also surging.

UNICEF said no cholera had yet been detected in Gaza, but stressed that an outbreak could see the number of children dying in Gaza rise “exponentially”.

Close to hostage deal, temporary truce: Biden

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday signaled that a deal to free hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and a temporary truce is “now very close.”

“We are now very close, very close. We could bring some of these hostages home very soon. But I don’t want to get into the details of things, because nothing is done until it’s done,” he said at the White House. “Things are looking good at the moment.”

Key mediator Qatar also said a truce deal was in sight and the Israeli premier pointed to “progress”.

The announcements are the most optimistic yet of a potential breakthrough in the conflict, which has been raging for more than six weeks and left thousands dead on both sides.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP, after US President Joe Biden indicated an accord was on the cards.

In Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said “we’re very optimistic, very hopeful” and told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas, was more circumspect, telling soldiers at a military base only that “we are making progress” on the return of hostages.

“I hope there will be good news soon,” he added before his office announced the war and security cabinets and government would meet Tuesday evening.

CNN meanwhile quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying a deal was “very close” and could be announced by Qatar later on Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the talks.

53 journalists killed in Gaza conflict

Fifty-three journalists and media workers have been killed in the latest Gaza conflict, according to a tally by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published Tuesday.

The toll includes 46 Palestinians, four Israelis and three Lebanese killed since the war began on October 7, the New York-based organisation said.

The most recent casualties were two journalists from the pro-Iranian Lebanese channel Al Mayadeen, killed by Israeli strikes in southern Lebanon on Tuesday according to state-run media.

The CPJ said 11 journalists have been injured and three are missing since the start of the conflict, while 18 have been arrested.

“Journalists in Gaza face particularly high  risks as they try to cover the conflict during the Israeli ground assault, including devastating Israeli airstrikes, disrupted communications, supply shortages and extensive power outages,” the NGO said on its website.