Gaza’s limited water supply raises concerns for human health

AP , Ahram Online , Tuesday 17 Oct 2023

A lack of clean water in the Gaza Strip, currently under deadly Israeli attacks, is raising major concerns for human health.



“Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life,” said Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the U.N. agency for Palestinians.

Gaza normally gets its water supplies from a combination of sources, including a pipeline from Israel, desalination plants on the Mediterranean Sea and wells. Those supplies were slashed when Israel cut off water, along with the fuel and electricity that power water and sewage plants.

The United Nations recognizes access to water as a human right, and on a basic level, the human body needs a constant supply of water to survive. “Next to air,” water is “really the most important thing for maintenance of your health,” said Dr. Tsion Firew, an emergency physician at Columbia University who has worked on water access in humanitarian settings.

"Concerns over dehydration and waterborne diseases are high given the collapse of water and sanitation services, including today’s shutdown of Gaza’s last functioning seawater desalination plant", the UNRWA said in a report on Monday.  

One line of water was opened on Monday, for three hours only in the South of the Gaza Strip, feeding limited water to only half of the population of Khan Yunis (nearly 100,000 people), the UNRWA said. 

This does not solve the urgent water needs in other parts of Khan Yunis, the Middle Area and Rafah. Only 14 percent of the population in the Strip benefited from this three-hour opening of the water line. 

600,000 litres of fuel are needed in Gaza per day to operate water and desalinization plants. UNRWA moved (on 16 October) some of its existing -but very limited- fuel supplies that it already had inside Gaza. 

A report from the U.S. National Academies of Science and Medicine says men need to drink about 3.7 liters (125 ounces) and women need about 2.7 liters (91 ounces) per day to be adequately hydrated. Most of that comes from drinking water or beverages, and about 20% from food, including fruits.

Many people can’t survive more than a few days without water, Firew said — especially vulnerable groups like children, the elderly and those with health conditions. Dehydration can cause dizziness, fatigue and confusion and in severe cases lead to organ failure and death.

Water access is also crucial for sanitation, and a lack of clean water can lead to the spread of infections like cholera and dysentery. Diarrheal diseases that can be spread by unclean water are the leading cause of death for children under 5 across the world, Firew said.

Healthcare settings are a particular concern as they rely on clean water to care for patients who are sick and injured.

As hospitals across the Gaza Strip struggle to care for thousands of patients, the World Health Organization said the lack of water is putting lives in danger.

“Water is needed to ensure sanitary conditions on inpatient wards, in operation rooms, and in emergency departments. It is essential for the prevention of hospital associated infections and for the prevention of outbreaks in hospitals,” the WHO said in a statement.

Short link: