Water, sewage system “collapsing” in Gaza, says official

Untreated waste water in Wadi Gaza, near Gaza City, pollutes rivers and eventually the sea, as well as groundwater. (ICRC)

GENEVA (IRIN) - The UN has warned that power networks were down in large parts of the Gaza Strip on 4 January, with hospitals relying on generators. Without power for pumps, 70 percent of Gazans are estimated to be without tap water.

Israel has been blocking fuel supplies, and stocks are dwindling, the latest (4 January) report by the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territories said.

The Israeli Gisha organization, a non-governmental organization, said seven of the 12 electricity lines in the enclave (the 12 lines normally supply about 70 percent of Gaza’s electricity) were down, and warned that the lack of power was causing sewage to flood into populated areas and farmland. There continued to be a risk of sustained flooding.

“The water and sewage system in Gaza is collapsing, cutting people off from the water supply and causing sewage to flood the streets,” said Maher al-Najjar, deputy director of Gaza’s water utility, CMWU. He also said 48 of Gaza’s 130 wells were not working at all due to lack of electricity and damage to pipes. “At least 45 other wells are operating only partially and will shut down within days without additional supplies of fuel and electricity,” al-Najjar said.

Israel’s sanctions on Gaza, which have included severe restrictions on imports, mean there has been a shortage of spare parts for some time, adding to the current problems.

Red Cross surgeons unable to enter Gaza

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva has said medical supplies, including blood, medicines and items like body bags, are needed. It has been unable to get its expert team of surgeons into Gaza, as Israel has closed the Erez Crossing. The ICRC team had been trying to get in since last week, before Israel began a ground invasion, but were blocked.

After a week of aerial strikes on the coastal enclave, Israeli began a ground offensive on 3 January, firing artillery shells and then sending troops into Gaza.

The death toll since the offensive began on 27 December is over 515 Palestinians, about a quarter of whom were civilians, according to UN estimates, and four Israelis, three of whom were civilians. The Israelis were killed by Palestinian rocket fire.

Israel has said it began the operation to contain rocket and mortar fire from the enclave.

Since the ground offensive began, movement within the enclave has become more difficult. Citizens are afraid to go outside, with one aid worker commenting that people were afraid to queue for bread, never knowing when an air strike would take place.

A woman in northern Gaza was unable to get to a hospital and suffered a still-birth and ruptured uterus, the ICRC reported.

A paramedic was killed on 4 January when his ambulance was struck by an Israeli shell, Oxfam said. In the incident, two others were injured, with one losing his foot.

An ICRC spokeswoman in Geneva stressed the need to protect medical personnel and facilities and let them carry out their work unhindered.

Aid organizations have said hospitals are taking in a large number of dead and wounded and are unable to cope, particularly given the shortages in the enclave resulting from the Israeli closures of its crossings with the Strip. The southern Rafah crossing with Egypt is also generally closed.

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