UNICEF director warns of looming ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza as water supplies dwindle — By: Catholic News Agency

Children sit together around a boy cooking instant noodles on a fire in a makeshift oven from a recycled barrel in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 31, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. / Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Oct 31, 2023 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

The director of the United Nations Children’s Fund warned this week of a looming humanitarian disaster in Gaza as clean drinking water supplies reportedly dwindle to dangerously low levels there. 

Catherine Russell, the executive director of UNICEF, said in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Monday that the “devastating tally” of the weekslong Israel-Hamas war is “quickly adding up,” particularly among children, “over 3,400” of whom have been killed in Gaza so far, she said. 

On Oct. 20, the Catholic humanitarian group Aid to the Church in Need similarly warned of the looming “devastation” facing civilians caught in the conflict.

After being attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, resulting in the deaths of some 1,400 Israelis, Israel has waged a war in Gaza against Hamas’ military forces, which are deeply embedded among the civilian population and using hundreds of hostages taken by the terrorist group in its Oct. 7 attack and others as human shields. The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the Gaza area, though that tally has not been independently verified.

Noting the resulting damage done to “civilian infrastructure,” including hospitals, UNICEF’s Russell said that “what little clean water remains in Gaza is quickly running out, leaving more than 2 million people in dire need” amid the war.

“We estimate that 55% of the water supply infrastructure requires repair or rehabilitation,” she said. “Only one desalination plant is operating at just 5% capacity, while all six of Gaza’s water-waste treatment plants are now nonoperational due to a lack of fuel or power.”

The director said the “lack of clean water and safe sanitation” in Gaza “is on the verge of becoming a catastrophe.”

“Unless access to clean water is urgently restored, more civilians, including children, will fall ill or die from dehydration or waterborne diseases,” she said. 

Russell said UNICEF, which works to bring humanitarian aid to children across the globe, is working to “reach all children in need” but that the delivery of aid in Gaza is currently “extremely challenging.” 

“This is due to both the current siege conditions imposed on Gaza and the highly dangerous circumstances under which our staff are operating,” she said. 

Russell called for the Security Council to adopt a resolution that “reminds parties of their obligations under international law, calls for a cease-fire, demands that parties allow safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, demands the immediate and safe release of all abducted children, and urges parties to afford children the special protection to which they are entitled.”

“All parties must stop violence and prevent any grave violations committed against children,” she said.

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