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Gaza Braces for Deadly Disease Outbreak as Aid Teams Race Against Time

November 29, 2023

As a tenuous ceasefire holds for the fifth consecutive day in Gaza, doctors are grappling with the looming threat of a potentially catastrophic disease outbreak, prompting urgent calls for increased aid deliveries. UN humanitarian agencies emphasize the immediate need to save lives, particularly those of the injured, and to curb the risk of a deadly epidemic that has left medical professionals in the region “terrified.”

The aftermath of weeks of intense Israeli bombardment, triggered by Hamas’s October 7th massacres in southern Israel, has severely impacted essential services in Gaza. Over 1,200 people lost their lives, with around 240 taken hostage, and more than 15,000 reported casualties, mostly women and children.

One of the critical priorities is the transportation of fuel to the north of the war-torn enclave. This fuel is essential to power hospitals, provide clean water, and maintain vital civilian infrastructure, all of which have been massively disrupted by the recent conflict.

In southern Gaza, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder highlights the immediate threats faced by children, both from the air and on the ground. Doctors at Al-Shifa hospital express their fear of a disease outbreak, with diarrhoea and respiratory infections posing significant risks, especially to children whose weakened immune systems and lack of food make them particularly vulnerable.

As negotiations continue for the release of hostages and a potential extension of the ceasefire, UNICEF expresses dismay at witnessing numerous children fighting for their lives in makeshift conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) echoes concerns about the dire health needs across the region, emphasizing the impact of starvation, lack of clean water, and overcrowded living conditions.

The UN aid coordination office (OCHA) reports expedited deliveries of relief supplies south of Wadi Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced persons have sought shelter. Hospitals, water, and sanitation facilities are receiving daily fuel supplies to operate generators.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered crucial food aid to over 120,000 people in Gaza during the initial ceasefire, but warns that supplies are “woefully inadequate” to address the hunger witnessed in UN shelters and communities. WFP’s Director for the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe Region, Corinne Fleischer, emphasizes the risk of famine and starvation, calling for sustained efforts to bring in food at scale and distribute it safely.

As the pause in fighting hangs in the balance, WFP Palestine Representative and Country Director, Samer Abdeljaber, stresses the urgent need for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, emphasizing that the pause has offered a brief window of relief that must pave the way for longer-term calm.