Palestinian Territory - The people of the Gaza Strip face a growing risk of infectious and deadly diseases, especially among vulnerable groups. Disease is spreading throughout the region due to the health crisis caused by Israel’s strict siege and genocide against Palestinians in the Strip; the latterhas been ongoing since 7 October 2023.

In addition to the Israeli army’s ceaseless air, land, and sea attacks, the Gaza Strip’s population is dying from infectious diseases and epidemics brought on by contaminated water; overcrowding;high temperatures; a collapsed health system, a shortage of sterilisation supplies and medicine; andan accumulation of solid waste throughout the Strip.

The genocidal war that Israel has waged against the people of the Gaza Strip for over six months nowhas resulted in a public health catastrophe that hasspread and is getting worse. Meanwhile, the Israeli army has continued to destroy every aspect of life in the Strip through military attacks and siege, ruining what little remains of the functioning health system and preventing the populace from receiving basic medical care. The Israeli army has also been preventing humanitarian aid from entering the Strip—aid that is not only essential for containing epidemics and communicable diseases, but forlimiting their effects as swiftly as possible.

As a result of the ongoing, devastating Israeli military attacks, health and environmental disasters are rapidly worsening. This has disastrous effects on both the general environment and public health, especially for vulnerable groups including children, newborn babies, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses.

As the temperature in the Gaza Strip rises steadilydue to the shifting seasons, the majority of the major water pipelines are broken, the sewage systems are severely damaged, and the population receives far less clean water than it requires. Many people are even compelled to drink unclean water.

The World Health Organisation warned months ago about a comprehensive health and environmental catastrophe facing the residents of the Gaza Strip, linking the spread of diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, and hepatitis to contaminated water and the degradation of the sewage system.

This warning came in response to the dire need for drinking water in the Strip, which has resulted from the majority of water wells being shut off owing to a lack of fuel and significant damage to desalination plants as a result of rising temperatures and rising demand.

Due to a scarcity of fuel brought on by the complete power outage imposed by Israel, sewage and water desalination facilities have had to close. The closure raises the possibility of bacterial infections spreading, as typhoid, polio, dysentery, and diarrhoea can all be spread by contaminated drinking water.

Since the start of its military assaults, the Israeli government has shut off fuel and electricity supplyto the Gaza Strip, in addition to sealing the Strip’s water pipes.

The health system’s near-total collapse, the absence of integrated hospitals in the Gaza City and North Gaza governorates, and the intense strain on the few hospitals that are still open in the southern part of the Strip pose an unprecedented threat to the number of victims.

There has been an estimated accumulation of over 270,000 tons of solid waste in the Gaza Strip, including sanitary waste, in population centres, roads, squares, and hospitals. This is due to Israel’sdestruction of waste management facilities, the collection system, and waste treatment facilities in the Strip. The destruction of these infrastructures has resulted in an environmental and health disaster in and of itself, and poses an extreme threat to public health. The effects of the outbreak of diseases and epidemics has started to show in the densely populated displacement camps, particularly given the absence of water and sanitation services.

Approximately 90,000 tons of waste haveaccumulated in the streets and around shelter centres in Gaza City alone. This has resulted in the partial or total closure of certain roads and other areas that are now specifically designated for the collection of waste, as well as the spread of disease-causing insects and rodents.

Thousands of corpses left in the streets or beneath house debris are rotting and being consumed by cats and dogs, which is an additional factorcontributing to the spread of infectious diseases.The spread threatens the environment and public health in the Strip, and 

health authorities in the Strip have detected about one million cases of infectious diseases. It is important to note that these authorities lack thenecessary medical capabilities to treat the diseases, including thousands of viral hepatitis cases.

The Global Nutrition Group estimates that at least90% of the Gaza Strip’s children under the age of five are affected by one or more infectious diseases, and that 70% have had diarrhoea in the past two weeks—a 23-fold increase compared with the 2022 baseline.

In addition to the reported use of smoke and phosphorus bombs, 10s of thousands of tons of explosives and bombs have been dropped on homes by Israeli aircraft, leaving behind exhaust and smoke that is dangerous to human health. More of the same could double the serious damage to human health and the environment, which havebeen deteriorating for months.

Data show that dust and fumes from bombing, rubble, and shells have resulted in 10s of thousands of cases of respiratory allergies, asthma, and chest allergies.

As smoke and poisonous gases from Israeli aerial and artillery bombardment are rising, Israel’ssystematic destruction of agricultural lands by bulldozing, uprooting trees, and bombing vitalareas is contributing to the desertification of the Gaza Strip by lessening the amount of oxygen released.

The absence of epidemic and rodent control programs has caused disease to spread intensely, including in crowded places of displacement. Since hundreds of thousands of displaced people are concentrated in small geographic areas like Rafah, Mawasi, Khan Yunis, Deir al-Balah, and some neighbourhoods in northern Gaza, including in shelter centres, there is an accumulation of waste and an environmental and health reality that has led to the spread of infectious diseases that have infected hundreds of thousands of people. 

Furthermore, the acute lack of cooking gas brought on by the strict Israeli siege has forced people torely heavily on less hygienic sources, such asfirewood, wood scraps, charcoal, and burning waste, which increases the risk of respiratory illnesses.

Therefore, not only have the ongoing military assaults by Israel had a terrible impact on agricultural lands, water, soil, air quality, public and environmental health, but startling spikes in mortality have been seen as a result of these interrelated issues.

The internationally acknowledged human right to water and sanitation is a fundamental right that protects population health and dignity. It can only be realised by putting an end to Israel’s crime of genocide, lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip—which is a form of collective punishment and a war crime—and salvaging what remains viable in the Strip. Every day of delay will contribute to an inevitable collapse of the health sector, and to the cost of human lives and health.

The international community needs to act swiftly and forcefully to end Israel’s systematic and pervasive crimes against the health sector, which are putting what is left of it out of service; denying the Palestinian people any chance to live, work, and recover; and turning the Gaza Strip into an inhospitable place without the necessities for survival and housing.

It is also crucial that the international community make sure that humanitarian aid is allowed to enterthe Gaza Strip, including the basic food and non-food supplies needed to respond quickly, safely, and effectively to the environmental and health crisis, particularly in the northern Strip.

Maintaining sanitation facilities and services, which includes giving technicians the chance to repair and restore water lines and their various sources, are crucial demands to make of Israel. Israel must be pressured to start up the main pipelines that reach the Gaza Strip, particularly the northern part of the Strip, and ensure technician safety.

Additionally, pressure must be applied to Israel to see to it that enough fuel is imported to run the water and sanitation infrastructure, which includes water desalination plants and water wells, and allow for the entry of all necessary supplies for repairs and rehabilitation work on civilian infrastructure. These services are essential to the civilian population’s survival in the Gaza Strip, andto protect them from the threat of further health disasters.