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Flies, mosquitoes, raw sewage and mountains of garbage threaten to worsen Gaza’s health crisis

Raw sewage, swarms of flies and mosquitoes, garbage piled high in the streets. As the heat of summer gathers, hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are contending with a crisis in sanitation.

“The municipalities are not working, and waste in large piles is on our doorsteps and on the roads,” he said.

“We are seeing large quantities of flying insects for the first time… Frankly, we have insects that we see for the first time and we do not know their names, and they sting our bodies and the bodies of our children.”

Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza – launched in the wake of the October 7 attacks – is now into its eighth month and has triggered a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

Human rights groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm over “unspeakable” living conditions for Palestinians, as Israel’s military campaign has pulverized neighborhoods, damaged health infrastructure and depleted food, water and fuel supplies.

There is little sign of a resolution to the protracted and bloody conflict. A US-backed ceasefire plan was overwhelmingly approved by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) this week. But neither side has accepted it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that he will continue until Hamas is destroyed and the remaining hostages are freed.

In an assessment this week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that in Deir al Balah in central Gaza, where thousands of displaced are sheltering, families say that shelters are overcrowded. They have reported a range of health issues, such as hepatitis A, skin diseases, and respiratory illnesses and say that access to water is also critically low.

At one displacement site, the average amount of water available per day was less than one liter per person, well below the internationally recognized minimum requirement for survival of three litres per day, according to OCHA.

A safe water supply is essential not just for drinking and cooking, but to prevent the spread of disease.

OCHA reported this week that more than two-thirds of water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged due to the conflict. It added many other facilities are out of service due to challenges including “insecurity, access impediments, and lack of power and fuel to operate generators.”

OCHA said that people’s coping mechanisms are “heavily stretched,” with the most vulnerable collecting water from unreliable sources in inadequate containers, while lacking basic hygiene items like soap.

The average high temperature in Gaza in the coming week is expected to be in the low 30 degrees celsius, with warmer weather likely to worsen what is already a crisis in sanitation.

Roads ‘full of sewage’

Zayda, the Gaza City resident, told how an out-of-service swimming pool in his had become a magnet for insects.

“During the day, flies come, and at night, mosquitoes spread… We light fires at night and burn garbage until the flying insects disappear.”

Zayda spends much of the day wearing a mask, partly because some vehicles run on burned frying oil as an alternative to diesel, making breathing difficult.

“The roads are full of sewage running through the streets, waste and rubble from the bombing,” he said.

The treatment of sewage amid damage to infrastructure and a lack of fuel has become an enduring problem in Gaza.

Carl Skau, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said after a tour of Gaza this week that a million people have been pushed out of Rafah and are now “trapped” in a “highly congested area along the beach in the burning summer heat.”

“We drove through rivers of sewage,” he said.

According to the OCHA, the delivery of some fuel supplies has helped reduce the level of accumulated wastewater in the Sheikh Radwan area in Gaza City, but “the lack of a steady flow of fuel creates a continued risk of sewage overflow into neighbouring areas.”

“There is significant damage to the sewer lines and sewage pumps, this has led to the leakage of sewage and wastewater throughout the city.”

He estimated that more than 4 kilometers of water pipelines had been destroyed or damaged, an immense stretch to repair in the middle of a war.

According to assessments by UN agencies and partner organizations published in the last week, 67% of water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged due to conflict.

There are sporadic efforts to repair infrastructure. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, has restored several wells in Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah and Nuseirat.

But the scale of the task, without a ceasefire and with limited fuel supplies and equipment, is far beyond the capability of local authorities in Gaza.

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