WHO: Disease Could Be Bigger Killer Than Bombs in Gaza

Humanitarian groups have warned for weeks that Israel’s total blockade of Gaza — cutting off fuel, water, food and electricity — was quickly fueling outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses, Julia Conley reports.

Palestinians in the rubble left by an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on Oct. 9. (Naaman Omar, Palestinian News & Information Agency, or Wafa, for APAimages, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

With the brief “humanitarian pause” between Israel and Hamas so far failing to result in the delivery of sufficient aid in Gaza, United Nations officials this week warned that the spread of disease could soon begin killing more Palestinian people than Israel’s bombs and raids.

Humanitarian groups have said for weeks that Israel’s total blockade of Gaza — cutting off deliveries of fuel, water, food, and electricity access — quickly fueled outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses as sanitation and water treatment services ground to a halt. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now recorded more than 44,000 cases of diarrhea and 70,000 acute respiratory infections in Gaza since Israel began its latest bombardment of the enclave on Oct. 7, with cases of gastrointestinal illness for those aged 5 and older rising to more than 100 times the normal level earlier this month. 

“Everybody everywhere has dire health needs now because they are starving, because they lack clean water and they’re crowded together,” said Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for WHO, at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. “Basically, if you’re sick, if your child has diarrhea, if you’ve got a respiratory infection, you’re not going to get any [help].”

“Eventually we will see more people dying from disease than from bombardment if we are not able to put back together this health system,” she added. 

[Related: ‘A Massive War Crime’]

On social media, WHO reiterated its call for a permanent negotiated cease-fire and sustained aid access in Gaza to allow health officials to rebuild the decimated medical system. 

Out of 36 hospitals in Gaza, about 26 — or three-quarters — have entirely shut down due to damage from bombings and an inability to provide care to patients. Without fuel shipments and reliable electricity, doctors have been unable to run machinery needed to properly sterilize medical equipment, among other necessities.

Although the current truce was initially in place for four days and has been extended by three days until at least Thursday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that no fuel has arrived in northern Gaza for hospitals to run generators. 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) walks by supplies at the Al-Arish Airport in Egypt, on his way to the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Oct. 20. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

One doctor from al-Shifa Hospital, which was raided by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) earlier this month, told the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that primary threats to children’s safety were previously “very much from the air and now very much on the ground,” as gastrointestinal and respiratory infections continue spreading. 

“He was terrified as a medical professional in terms of the disease outbreak that is lurking here and how that will devastate children whose immune systems and lack of food … is making them perilously weak,” UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said Tuesday.

[Related: IDF Knew Real Hamas HQ While Lying About al-Shifa]

At hospitals throughout Gaza, Elder said in a video briefing, “I met a lot of parents. … They know exactly what their children need. They don’t have access to safe water and it’s crippling them.”

Since last month, United Nations agencies and groups including Oxfam have warned that, cut off from access to clean water, Palestinians face an even more dire public health threat than the diseases that are already spreading: a potential cholera outbreak like the one that killed at least 97 people in 2022 in Syria and Lebanon.

“It’s conceivable that the bacterium has been brought in and the conditions are now ripe for its spread,” Richard Brennan, regional emergency director for WHO, told Al Jazeera in October.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) told the BBC Tuesday that about 200 aid trucks per day have been allowed into Gaza since the humanitarian pause began last week — an improvement over the roughly 45 trucks that entered the enclave each day before the truce, but only half the amount that brought aid to Gaza’s 2.3 million residents daily before Oct. 7. 

“The situation has become more than dire and this aid is urgently and critically needed,” PRCS spokesperson Nebal Farsakh told the BBC. 

Amnesty International warned that Palestinian civil society groups are struggling to serve injured, ill, displaced and traumatized residents as a number of European countries and the European Commission have suspended or restricted aid funding due to “unfounded allegations that funding has been diverted to ‘terrorist organizations’ or used for ‘incitement to hatred and violence’.”

The European Commission introduced “anti-incitement” clauses in all new contracts with Palestinian NGOs, subjecting them to third-party monitoring, even as it announced on Nov. 21 that “no evidence has been found to date that money has been diverted for unintended purposes.”

“Restricting the funding of Palestinian organizations only is discriminatory and would silence them by hampering their vital work and would further deprive victims of any prospect of protection,” said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“The credibility of European states who claim to champion human rights has already been weakened by their failure to call for a cease-fire and by continuing to arm Israel as it kills thousands of Palestinians with impunity,” added Geddie. “These discriminatory funding restrictions are damaging their credibility even further.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

3 comments for “WHO: Disease Could Be Bigger Killer Than Bombs in Gaza

  1. James White
    December 1, 2023 at 08:11

    No one will say it, -yet, but Bibi let the attack happen so that he could realize his lifelong dream of annexing Gaza. It is no accident that absolutely everything has worked in his favor in his war on Gaza. He sacrificed his own citizens for what he imagines is the greater, long term benefit. Gaza would be prime beachfront property in the hands of Israelis. Bibi only needed a way to boot the smelly Palestinians off of it. Bibi found the perfect opportunity and accepted the collateral damage to his own people to achieve his long held dream. The first stage is to destroy the buildings and infrastructure and make it uninhabitable. Then let disease and death claim any Palestinians who survive the bombings and invasion. Bibi hopes and believes that Egypt and other Arab nations will take in the Gazans as refugees. Those nations are so far not falling for the ruse. Israel will then bulldoze everything and rebuild a prosperous Jewish community as they have done in various other ‘settlements.’ For Bibi himself, it was either this or a slow fade into oblivion. He has never been the type to succumb to inertia. Every person screaming ‘anti-semitism’ has taken the bait. In particular the U.S. and above all members of Congress.

  2. WWIIDaughter7
    November 30, 2023 at 12:42

    Credibility “weakened”? Between Ukraine and Palestine, I’d say it was a joke!

    • Piotr Berman
      December 1, 2023 at 13:34

      “These discriminatory funding restrictions are damaging their credibility even further.” Until this tragedy, I did not expect that USA and EU will provide unlimited assistance to a massacre of this magnitude. While credibility “was a joke”, it is not a joke anymore.

Comments are closed.