Debris From Destruction Adds to Dire Health Crisis in Gaza, U.N. Says

More than eight months of fighting between Israel and Hamas has destroyed buildings and infrastructure across the Gaza Strip, leaving more than 39 million tons of debris and exacerbating an already dire health crisis there, according to a preliminary assessment of the environmental impact of the conflict released by the United Nations on Tuesday.

In the latest of a series of reports from U.N. agencies clarifying the scale of devastation in Gaza and the health dangers posed by the war there, the U.N. Environmental Program found that the millions of tons of rubble contained unexploded ordnance, asbestos and other hazardous substances, as well as human remains.

The U.N. agency also found that the war had interrupted “almost all” environmental management systems and services, and created new hazards, and said that all water sources in Gaza have been disrupted, as have wastewater treatment and disposal facilities.

The environmental report follows a post on social media last week from UNRWA, the U.N.’s main agency for Palestinians, saying that as of early June, 330,000 tons of waste had accumulated in or near populated areas across Gaza, “posing catastrophic environmental and health risks.” Also last week, the U.N. Satellite Center reported that about 65 percent of the total road network in Gaza had been damaged as of last month.

“The collapse of sewage, wastewater and solid waste management systems and facilities has had major impacts on the environment and people,” the report said. It noted an increase in the rates of acute respiratory infection, diarrhea among children under 5, scabies, lice and jaundice reported by the World Health Organization since early in the conflict.

Gazans and humanitarian groups operating in the enclave have reported rationing water supplies, forcing people “to forgo personal hygiene and sanitation needs” and to use alternative water sources for drinking, including agricultural wells with brackish water, which exposes them to pesticides and other chemicals, the report said. Water supplies have also been contaminated by military activities, the U.N. agency said, including the flooding and destruction of the tunnel system built by Hamas, which the Israeli military has targeted.

UNRWA has accused the Israeli military of impeding its efforts to address environmental and health hazards in Gaza. The agency has cited a lack of access to fuel, compounding sanitation problems, and said the Israeli military has blocked UNRWA’s access to landfills at a time when many of its sanitation centers, machinery and trash trucks have been destroyed.

Aggravating the difficulties for humanitarian agencies, Gaza has become the most dangerous place in the world for aid workers, the U.N. said on Monday, noting that at least 250 have been killed in Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel set off the conflict, including nearly 200 who worked for UNRWA.

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