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Gaza’s next big threat: Cholera, infectious diseases amid total blockade

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Gaza’s next big threat: Cholera, infectious diseases amid total blockade

Humanitarian organisations warn deadly water-born diseases will spread in the besieged strip if aid is not allowed in.

Men and children arrive with jerry cans to fill up water from a portable cistern mounted on a cart in Rafah in the southern of Gaza Strip on October 19, 2023
Water sold by private vendors who run small solar-powered desalination facilities has doubled in price in Gaza since October 7 [Mohammed Abed/ AFP]

By Federica Marsi

Published On 21 Oct 202321 Oct 2023

Waseem Mushtaha’s four children have been out of school for almost two weeks. Instead of learning mathematics or geography, they are being taught how to ration water.

“Every day I fill a bottle of water for each one and I tell them: Try to manage this,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. “At the beginning, they struggled, but now they are coping.”

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After Israel issued an evacuation order for 1.1 million Palestinians in the northern part of Gaza, Mushtaha drove his wife and children aged eight to 15 to his aunt’s home in Khan Younis, where residents opened their doors to extended family and friends amid Israel’s relentless aerial bombardment.

As a water and sanitation officer for global non-profit Oxfam, Mushtaha sees the markers of an impending public health catastrophe all around him. “People sleep on the streets, in shops, in mosques, in their cars or on the streets,” he said. His family lives alongside around 100 people crammed in a 200-square-metre apartment and count themselves among the lucky ones.

Meanwhile, hygiene products have disappeared from the few supermarkets that are open and water sold by private vendors who run small solar-powered desalination facilities has doubled in price since October 7 – when Israel began bombing Gaza in retaliation for the surprise attack carried out by Hamas. It used to cost 30 shekels ($7.40), but is now priced at 60 shekels ($15).

On Wednesday, Mushtaha estimated that his family would run out of water in 24 hours. After that, he didn’t know what would happen. “We will go to the market and purchase whatever is available,” he explained. “We are looking to the future with bleak eyes.”

Palestinians crowding to buy bread from a bakery, in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip
Palestinians try to buy essential goods in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip [Fatima Shbair/AP]

Collapse of water and sanitation services

Oxfam and United Nations agencies have warned that the collapse of water and sanitation services will spark bouts of cholera and other deadly infectious diseases if urgent humanitarian aid is not