GENEVA: The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday three hospitals in Israeli-besieged northern Gaza had requested help with evacuating patients and that planning for that was under way, expressing regret that doing so would rob people of a lifeline.

Hospitals have come under Israeli relentless bombardment and all hospitals in the northern part of the enclave have effectively ceased functioning normally, although they continue to house some patients that could not flee and displvaced Gazans.

“Were looking at three hospitals right now in the north that asked to be evacuated but the important point is where to? There is no safe space,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva press briefing, saying that southern hospitals were already full and suffering shortages.

UN says sanitary conditions in Gaza ‘perfect storm for tragedy’

He said the requests came from hospital staff who feared for their lives. “That means the situation on the ground has grown so dire that the only other alternative is facing what they think is certain death as the hospitals are under attack…,” he said. “Taking away health care from people, is taking away the last resort, it’s taking away the last piece of humanity. And that’s what is happening right now.”

The three hospitals were Al Shifa, from which a group of babies has already been rescued, Indonesian Hospital and Al Ahli Hospital, he said. “So far it’s only in planning stages with no further details,” he added.

On Sunday, the United Nations health agency helped to evacuate 31 premature babies from the Al-Shifa hospital, however, twenty-eight of those babies arrived in Egypt and two premature babies died before the evacuation, the UN said on Tuesday, adding that most of those who reached Egypt were “unaccompanied”.

‘Perfect storm for tragedy’

Fuel shortages, a lack of water and worsening sanitation in Gaza, along with attacks on health care and mass displacement, are creating “a perfect storm for tragedy”, the UN warned on Tuesday.

The WHO said that already around 160 children are killed every day in Gaza, and the UN children’s agency Unicef warned of the risk of “mass disease outbreak” that could cause child death rates to mount in the de­nsely populated enclave where thousands of people are crammed into overcrowded shelters.

“If children’s access to water and sanitation in Gaza continue to be restricted and insufficient, we will see a tragic yet entirely avoidable surge in the number of children dying,” said Unicef spokesperson James Elder.

Elder said the daily minimum need in emergency situations was 15 litres of water per person, for drinking, hygiene and cooking, but that in parts of Gaza as little as three litres per day is available, and none on some days.

“We have then a perfect storm for the spread of disease,” he said, pointing to “a desperate lack of water, faecal matter strewn across densely-populated settlements (and) an unacceptable lack of latrines.”

He stressed the urgent need for sufficient fuel to be allowed into the territory, among other things, to get water pumps, desalination stations and waste management working again.

After weeks of no fuel entering Gaza, an agreement has been reached to allow 70,000 litres per day, but the UN says 200,000 litres are needed daily for humanitarian operations.

More than 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are estimated to be internally displaced within the enclave — nearly half of them children, the UN said.

Nearly 900,000 of those displaced are staying in severely overcrowded shelters run by UNRWA, the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees. On average, there are 700 people to one shower unit and 150 people to a toilet in those shelters, Elder said.

Published in Dawn, November 22th, 2023

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