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Water crisis increases women’s health burden during war on Gaza: Peoples Dispatch

Since October 7, 2023, more than 34,000 people have been killed in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Among them are more than 10,000 women, 6,000 of whom, according to a recent United Nations report, have left behind 19,000 orphans. The health status and living conditions of women and girls in Gaza continue to plummet as hygiene facilities are unavailable and infectious diseases threaten them as caregivers within their families.

The water and sanitation crisis has forced forcibly displaced women, along with other members of their families, to survive on just 1.5 liters of water per day, while the minimum prescribed for crisis situations is 15 liters per day. The consequences are particularly serious for pregnant and breastfeeding women. According to the UN report, they need at least 7.5 liters of water per day to stay hydrated – without even thinking about the need to maintain basic hygiene standards.

“We are already noticing an increase in the number of women and children suffering from dehydration and diarrhea. Infants who do not have access to breastfeeding – due to a mother’s incapacity or death – and must use formula are particularly vulnerable due to the need for clean, safe water, which is currently rarely available in Gaza,” a doctor told the newspaper . UN team.

Diarrhea is not the only disease that spreads more easily due to war. UN agencies have recorded an increasing number of diseases, such as Hepatitis A, but also scabies and lice. For women and girls, the combination of a lack of water and sanitation, such as sanitary towels, is likely to lead to an increase in reproductive and urinary tract infections. About 10 million disposable sanitary towels are needed to enter Gaza every month to ensure basic menstrual hygiene, but this number is far from being achieved.

Instead, Israel’s blockades on humanitarian convoys force women and girls to rely on makeshift sponges, tent scraps and cloth strips during their periods. This not only impacts physical and reproductive health, but also poses mental health risks as the lack of sanitation and showers forces them to menstruate without any privacy.

Read more: Women in Gaza remain among the worst affected by the war

Israel’s obstruction of humanitarian missions and convoys also means that not enough food reaches Gaza, exacerbating existing concerns about malnutrition and famine. Even the convoys allowed into the area, such as the one coordinated by the World Food Program in early April and targeted by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), do not receive adequate security guarantees and remain exposed to attacks.

According to analyzes published by the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Palestinian civil protection agencies or volunteers trying to escort the convoys are themselves being targeted by the Israeli army. “It is a systematic policy to erase and waste all the Palestinian people’s resources, which are crucial to helping them withstand the brutal Israeli attack,” Bisan’s report concludes.

The same goes for the IOF’s destruction of Palestinian health infrastructure. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) mission to Al-Shifa Hospital, once Gaza’s largest referral center, documented the extent of the destruction inflicted on the hospital during the IOF’s latest attack. In a field report of Al-Shifa, Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, pondered the possibility of repurposing the ruins into a referral center. While WHO remains committed to achieving this, the report states that a massive effort will be needed to achieve this.

Read more: Israel ripped the heart out of Gaza’s healthcare system by destroying Al-Shifa Hospital

Because Al-Shifa is currently in ruins, a large-scale cleanup campaign will be required, followed by interventions by construction, health and water engineers, and the renewal of all medical equipment destroyed by the IOF. According to Peeperkorn’s report, this can only be a long-term goal. In the short term, if significant resources are allocated for basic clearing, the complex could function as a first response point. But even this will not be possible without a ceasefire and security guarantees for health missions entering Gaza.

Public Health Post is a biweekly bulletin published by the Public health movement And People’s Shipping. For more articles and to subscribe to People’s Health Dispatch, click here.