Israel must stop using water as a “weapon of war” in the besieged Gaza Strip, a UN expert has said, amid harrowing reports of people drinking from the sea due to a shortage of clean drinking water.
Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, warned of the risk of Gazans dying of thirst or disease as he called on Israel to allow for provisions to enter the enclave.
“People are already suffering from dehydration and waterborne diseases due to salinated and polluted water consumption from unsafe sources,” he 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.”
Around 70 per cent of the population in Gaza is drinking salty and contaminated water, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
The Israeli government drastically cut supplies of water, fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip last month in response to Hamas’s attack in southern Israel on 7 October, when around 1,200 people were killed.
Human Rights Watch told i that the blockade in Gaza “amounts to collective punishment which is a war crime“.
As early as mid-October, one week into Israel launching its most powerful bombing campaign in Gaza, Reuters reported some of the desperate measures people resorted to amid a shortage of clean drinking water.
Some people dug wells in areas adjacent to the sea or relied on salty tap water from Gaza’s only aquifer that sits below the sandy ground and is contaminated with sewage and seawater.
Footage has emerged on X, formerly known as Twitter, in the past week of a child trying to pick up rain drops as he filled a bucket with rainwater.
“God knows that we’re dying of thirst so he lets rain fall from the sky,” the boy reportedly said.
Dr Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director of Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, told the BBC on Thursday that patients were “screaming from thirst” as the facility ran out of oxygen and water.
Israel has been piping water to some parts of southern Gaza while some water has entered via Egypt, but humanitarian organisations have warned it is not reaching everyone and is not nearly enough to meet the needs of Gaza’s population.
Tom Porteous, deputy programme director at Human Rights Watch, said the amount of aid coming into Gaza through the border with Egypt was “entirely insufficient”.
He added: “In every previous round of hostilities with Hamas, the Israeli authorities have kept essential services and aid flowing across the border.
“They just need to turn the tap back on and flick the switch.”