How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

Special How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
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With no end to the Israel-Hamas conflict in sight, more than a million displaced women and girls in Gaza have to endure daily challenges in increasingly dire conditions. (AFP files)
Special How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
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With no end to the Israel-Hamas conflict in sight, more than a million displaced women and girls in Gaza have to endure daily challenges in increasingly dire conditions. (AFP files)
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Updated 19 May 2024
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How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
  • UN Women has described ongoing Israel offensive as a “war on women” with at least 10,000 female deaths since last October
  • Deprived of access to adequate services, more than 1 million women and girls face daily challenges and serious health risks

LONDON: Deprived of adequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services, Palestinian women and girls in Gaza are bearing the brunt of the prolonged and deepening humanitarian emergency caused Israel’s ongoing military offensive.

With no resolution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in sight, more than a million displaced women and girls in the embattled Palestinian enclave continue to endure daily challenges in increasingly dire conditions.

UN Women has described the Israeli military operation in Gaza, which began in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, as a “war on women,” with at least 10,000 killed since the start of the conflict — among them more than 6,000 mothers.

Those figures, published in April, are now likely far higher as Israel expands its operation and bombing raids into eastern Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city, now home to some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians.

According to UN figures, this latest operation has forced an estimated 150,000 Palestinians to flee central and northern Rafah.

While the biggest risk to women and girls in Gaza is injury or death under Israeli bombardment, “the unhygienic conditions and lack of water in Gaza are also having a very negative impact on women and girls’ health and dignity,” Fikr Shalltoot, the Gaza programs director at Medical Aid for Palestinians, told Arab News.

Israel denies deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, accusing Hamas of using residential areas for cover.

As summer approaches, soaring temperatures worsen the spread of communicable diseases caused by a lack of hygiene facilities, water, and access to proper food. The heat itself is also a significant danger to children and the elderly.




A Palestinian woman holding her children reacts outside a hospital where casualties are brought following Israeli bombardment in Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on April 8, 2024. (AFP)

“During a recent heatwave, a 5-year-old girl tragically died in her tent due to extreme heat,” Shalltoot said.

Analysis of satellite imagery by BBC Verify found that the Israeli operation in Gaza has damaged or destroyed more than half (53 percent) of the territory’s vital water and sanitation facilities.

The analysis, based on images acquired in March and April, also confirmed that four of the six wastewater treatment plants in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. These facilities were critical to preventing sewage buildup.

Fidaa Al-Araj, Oxfam’s food security, cash, and protection coordinator in Gaza, said the water, sanitation, and hygiene situation facing women and girls in the enclave was “challenging,” leaving them unable to access clean toilets or private shower spaces.




A woman reacts upon seeing the body of a relative killed in Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“Having been displaced into camps or even in a host community, the numbers of people, of internally displaced persons, are very, very high,” Al-Araj told Arab News. “So, there is (overcrowding), there are many difficulties in having access to toilets, bathrooms, showers.”

She added: “Even if you have the facilities, and even if by any stretch they are enough for the IDPs residing in any given space, there is the issue of lack of running water to supply those facilities and to have them up and running all the time.




Displaced Palestinian women roll dough at their pizza making project at a makeshift shelter in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. Lack of water has made the work much difficult.  (AFP)

“So, the hygiene conditions are very compromised, to say the least. When it comes to women and girls, there are issues of privacy, which is completely lacking.”

Where washrooms are present, people have “to wait in line with all sorts of people, even strangers, men and women, just to use the toilet. You have people banging on the door of the toilet while you’re in there, asking you to hurry up because the line is still very long.”

INNUMBERS

• 700,000 Women and girls now hosted in Rafah who have nowhere else to go. 

• 93% Women surveyed who feel unsafe in their own homes or in displacement.

• 6/10 Women who reported complications in pregnancy since Oct. 7.

Source: UN Women

This also makes management of menstruation especially challenging, as women and girls “endure longer hours without changing a pad, without washing,” Al-Araj added.

According to UN figures, there are more than 690,000 menstruating women and adolescent girls in the Gaza Strip. But aid agencies, which have had very limited access to the enclave due to the Israeli blockade, have been unable to meet the high demand for hygiene kits.




A girl ponders over what the future holds for her as she stands between barbed-wire patches at a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

And since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7 and closed the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, the already limited flow of commercial goods and humanitarian aid has been further strangulated.

MAP’s Shalltoot confirmed that women’s sanitary products were “scarce in the local market,” highlighting that this has had “a psychological and physical health impact on women and girls.”

She said: “They resort to homemade, makeshift alternatives, which negatively impact their health by putting them at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections and protection-related risks.

“This also negatively impacts their psychological well-being, anxiety and insecurity.”

Even the simple act of taking a shower has been almost impossible for women in Gaza for several months.




A woman gives a baby a bath inside a tent at a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 18, 2024. (AfP)

“It’s very difficult to find a spot designated to take showers, and if it’s there, it’s very difficult to have water,” Oxfam’s Al-Araj said. “And if the water is there, it’s very difficult to find time to take an adequate shower.”

She added: “As a woman and as a mother of girls, I’ve been through all of this. To overcome these circumstances, you space out the shower times, so you take a shower when it’s absolutely needed.

“Sometimes you could spend a couple of weeks or even more without taking a shower.”

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC that the destruction of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has led to “disastrous health consequences for the population,” notably a significant rise in gastric complaints in Rafah.




A Palestinian woman brushes a girl's hair outside a tent at a refugee camp in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)

Contaminated water has also led to a spike in hepatitis A cases, with women and girls facing a heightened risk of exposure to the disease due to their traditional domestic responsibilities and caring for the sick, according to UN Women’s April gender alert report.

The report, titled “Scarcity and Fear,” highlighted that the lack of adequate and dignified facilities also exposes women and girls to reproductive and urinary tract infections.

“This situation could develop into dangerous or concerning health conditions for the women and girls, and I’m really sorry to say that it’s not given priority,” said Al-Araj.

“The heightening demand on the time, resources, and capacity of the medical facilities and staff makes prioritizing women’s issues or girls’ issues very difficult.”

Moreover, there are no quick fixes. Even if sufficient aid is permitted to enter Gaza, facilities need to be carefully planned in order to meet the necessary standards of privacy, cleanliness, and safety.




A Palestinian girl carries a toddler as people flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to a safer location on May 11, 2024, Israeli strikes. (AFP)

“It’s not enough to build a shower or a toilet,” said Al-Araj. “It’s not enough to provide it with water and that’s it. You have to think of the site … Is it safe for women and girls, is it accessible at all times … is it targeted maybe by different threats?

“You also have to think about the supplies. You don’t give a hygiene kit or a dignity kit once, for example, and that’s it, your work is done. You need to regularly provide those kinds of kits.”

Al-Araj also emphasized the need for “complementary services,” including extending responses “to enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health care system.

“I can only wish that the aftereffects of all of this wouldn’t linger for long or have irreversible results.”


 


Palestinian Authority at risk of collapse, Norway says

Palestinian Authority at risk of collapse, Norway says
Updated 54 min 39 sec ago
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Palestinian Authority at risk of collapse, Norway says

Palestinian Authority at risk of collapse, Norway says
  • Norway chairs the international donor group to the Palestinians and is a backer of the Palestinian Authority

OSLO: The Palestinian Authority could collapse in the coming months, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said on Monday, citing a lack of funding, continuing violence and the fact that half a million Palestinians are not allowed to work in Israel.
“The Palestinian Authority, with whom we work closely, are warning us that they might be collapsing this summer,” Barth Eide said.
Norway chairs the international donor group to the Palestinians and is a backer of the PA.


Jordan braces for scorching heatwave as temperatures soar

Jordan braces for scorching heatwave as temperatures soar
Updated 17 June 2024
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Jordan braces for scorching heatwave as temperatures soar

Jordan braces for scorching heatwave as temperatures soar
  • The Gulf of Aqaba reached highs of 45 celsius
  • Temperatures in Jordan are set to rise slightly, with the heatwave persisting

AMMAN: The Jordan Meteorological Department forecast extreme heat for Monday, with most regions of the country — particularly the desert areas, Jordan Valley, Dead Sea and Aqaba — experiencing intense temperatures.

The Gulf of Aqaba reached highs of 45 celsius, the Southern Jordan Valley 44 celsius, Dead Sea 43 celsius, while the Desert Regions and the Northern Jordan Valley reached highs of 41 celsius. 

Cloud cover at medium and high altitudes is expected in the south and east of the Kingdom, state news agency Petra reported, with moderate northwesterly winds occasionally becoming brisk.

The JMD cautioned people against prolonged sun exposure, which could lead to dehydration, especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with health conditions. It also highlighted the risk of forest fires and the dangers of leaving children or flammable items, like perfumes and sanitizers, inside vehicles.

Looking ahead to Tuesday, temperatures in Jordan are set to rise slightly, with the heatwave persisting. Most areas will remain hot, the JMD said, and desert regions will face sweltering conditions. Northeasterly winds will prevail, shifting to moderate northwesterly by evening.

The heatwave will continue into Wednesday, with another slight increase in temperatures. Conditions will be blistering and dry across the highlands, the JMD warned, with extreme heat persisting elsewhere. Northeasterly winds will turn to moderate northwesterly later in the day.

Thursday will bring a modest reprieve as temperatures dip slightly. However, the weather will remain hot across most areas, with the desert, Jordan Valley, Dead Sea, and Aqaba continuing to sizzle. Moderate northwesterly winds will occasionally become brisk.


Iran calls for joint action by Islamic nations to stop Gaza war

Iran calls for joint action by Islamic nations to stop Gaza war
Updated 17 June 2024
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Iran calls for joint action by Islamic nations to stop Gaza war

Iran calls for joint action by Islamic nations to stop Gaza war
  • Israel’s military offensive on Gaza has killed at least 37,337 people so far

TEHRAN: Iran’s Acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani has called for joint action on the part of Islamic countries to pressure Israel into ending its brutal military activities in Gaza, which have devastated most of the enclave and killed thousands of Palestinians there.

Israel’s military offensive on Gaza has killed at least 37,337 people, mostly civilian women and children, since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

Humanitarian supplies for millions of Palestinians displaced by the conflict have been squeezed despite the Israeli military declaring it would “pause” fighting daily around a southern route to facilitate aid flows.

The Iranian official also spoke with his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi via telephone on Sunday, with the two discussing bilateral relations as well as the situation in war-ravaged Gaza.

Kani reiterated Iran’s readiness to help Kabul resolve its challenges and achieve growth, Iran’s news agency IRNA reported.


Kuwaiti citizen detained for alleged involvement in extremist group

Kuwaiti citizen detained for alleged involvement in extremist group
Updated 17 June 2024
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Kuwaiti citizen detained for alleged involvement in extremist group

Kuwaiti citizen detained for alleged involvement in extremist group

KUWAIT CITY: The Public Prosecution in Kuwait has ordered the detention of a citizen on charges of joining a group aimed at illegally undermining the country’s basic systems, state news agency KUNA reported on Sunday.

The individual is also accused of receiving training in making explosives and preparing poisons for illicit purposes, as well as planning to leave the country to fight with the group, though he was unable to do so.

The Public Prosecution interrogated the accused and presented him with the charges, according to a statement released on its official account on X. Investigation procedures are ongoing.


Yemen’s Houthis announce new maritime operations in support of Gaza

Yemen’s Houthis announce new maritime operations in support of Gaza
Updated 17 June 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis announce new maritime operations in support of Gaza

Yemen’s Houthis announce new maritime operations in support of Gaza
  • The Houthis declared that attacks on Israel-linked shipping will persist until Israel ends its war on Gaza and lifts the siege on Palestinian territories

SANAA: The Houthi militia’s army spokesman, Yahya Saree, announced on Sunday that an American destroyer and two Israel-linked ships were targeted in recent operations in the Red and Arabian seas.

Saree said that the US destroyer was hit by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea, while the two ships — Captain Paris and Happy Condor — were targeted in the Arabian Sea using naval missiles and drones, respectively.

He stated that these ships were targeted because they were en route to ports in Israeli-occupied territories.

Saree reaffirmed Yemen’s stance, declaring that attacks on Israel-linked shipping will persist until Israel ends its war on Gaza and lifts the siege on Palestinian territories.

He also emphasized that the Yemeni army would continue to defend its territory against US-UK “aggression,” referring to joint airstrikes by the two Western nations, which the latter claim were launched to protect international shipping.

The Houthis have rejected these claims, asserting that their military operations in international waters, ongoing since mid-November, only target Israeli ships or vessels heading to Israeli-occupied ports.