NEW YORK CITY: Israel must allow clean water and fuel supplies into Gaza “before it is too late,” a UN expert warned on Friday, as he called on Israeli authorities to stop using water as a “weapon of war.”
Under international law, intentionally depriving the civilian population of the conditions required to sustain life with the aim of bringing about their destruction is classified as an act of extermination and a crime against humanity, said Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.
“Every hour that passes with Israel preventing the provision of safe drinking water in the Gaza Strip, in brazen breach of international law, puts Gazans at risk of dying of thirst and diseases related to the lack of safe drinking water,” he said.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has said that the total exhaustion of fuel supplies in Gaza, and the resulting lack of power, is having devastating effects, including the complete breakdown of water supplies, sewage-management systems, sanitation services, communications networks and healthcare facilities.
“I want to remind Israel that consciously preventing supplies needed for safe water from entering the Gaza Strip violates both international humanitarian and human rights law,” Arrojo-Agudo said.
“The impact on public health and hygiene will be unimaginable and could result in more civilian deaths than the already colossal death toll from the bombardment of Gaza.”
He cautioned that children, especially those under the age of five, and women are suffering the most as a result of the water and sanitation emergency.
“These frequently invisible casualties of war are preventable and Israel must prevent them,” he said. “Israel must stop using water as a weapon of war.”
According to UNRWA, about 70 percent of Gazans are having to drink contaminated water or salt water to survive. Many water-related facilities throughout the besieged territory have ceased operating, including: two of the main public sewage-pumping stations in the south, plus several others; 60 wells in southern Gaza; two main desalination plants, in Rafah and the central Strip; and the Rafah wastewater treatment plant.
“People are already suffering from dehydration and waterborne diseases due to salinated and polluted water consumption from unsafe sources,” Arrojo-Agudo said.
“Coupled with the massive displacement of thousands of people in recent days, this is the perfect scenario for an epidemic that will only punish innocents, once again.”
UNRWA has warned that humanitarian operations will begin to collapse this week as a result of lack of fuel. It is required to power numerous facets of the aid effort, including desalination processes, electricity generation, healthcare equipment, and the trucks used to deliver the crucial aid that arrives at the Rafah border crossing to the people of Gaza.
“The deaths of children from thirst and disease are less visible and more silent than those caused by bombs but are equally, or more, lethal,” Arrojo-Agudo said, as he urged the international community to ensure that Israel meets its obligations under international law.
“The fate of Palestinians in Gaza is in Israel’s hands.”
Special rapporteurs are part of what is known as the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They are independent experts who work on a voluntary basis, are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work