Gaza’s children running out of time: Water shortages spark disease alarm

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF Spokesperson James Elder – to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

21 November 2023

GENEVA, 21 November 2023 – “If children’s access to water and sanitation in Gaza continues to be restricted and insufficient, we will see a tragic – yet entirely avoidable – surge in the number of children dying. 

“It is also now raining in Gaza. Combined, children face a serious threat of mass disease outbreak. It will be lethal.

“It’s important to remember the emergency threshold of a minimum amount of water per person per day - be it in war or famine-like conditions – is 15 litres. That is, to drink, to clean, to cook – all critical to prevent waterborne and other infectious diseases.

“And yet there are parts of Gaza, particularly the north - where estimates state there are around 700,000 people - where people struggle to access as little as three litres per day. On the same days, none at all.

“Let’s be clear: the control of fuel and the access to water is to control whether thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of children live or die.

“And this is not a footnote: more than 5,350 Palestinian children have reportedly already been killed. The death toll among children is sickening. Grief is being embedded into Gaza.

“This then is a stark warning—without sufficient fuel, without sufficient water, conditions for children will plummet. 

“Meanwhile, at least 30 Israeli children are still being held hostage somewhere in this hellscape. They must be released. It is abhorrent to think of their fear; the torment their families are enduring. It must end.

“The potential for the widespread loss of life in Gaza is significantly exacerbated by the fact that around 800,000 children in Gaza are displaced.

“They are desperately – often vainly – seeking safety in densely packed shelters.

"On average, there is one shower unit for every 700 people at UNRWA shelters. And a single toilet for every 150 people. Queues take hours. Think of what that means for adolescent girls.

"Without enough fuel, we will see the collapse of sanitation services.

“We have then a perfect storm for the spread of disease. The perfect storm for tragedy: a desperate lack of water; faecal matter strewn across densely packed settlements; unacceptable lack of latrines; severe constraints on handwashing, personal hygiene and cleaning.

“Already we’re seeing almost 10 times the monthly average of reported cases of diarrhoea among children under the age of 5, in addition to increases of scabies, lice, chicken pox, skin rashes and respiratory infections.

“What must happen:

  1. Permit the supply of water and sanitation materials and equipment for the emergency repair and operation of critical water and sanitation services, including production, treatment and distribution.
  2.  Immediately provide safe and unimpeded access to a daily supply of fuel that meets all the needs for the operation of critical water and sanitation facilities; and
  3. We need a humanitarian ceasefire; safe and unimpeded humanitarian access; and the immediate and safe release of all abducted children.

“Without these, an indifferent world will watch the death of countless children in Gaza.”



Media contacts

James Elder
Tel: +41 79941 5298


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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