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Israel must stop using water as a weapon of war: UN expert

17 November 2023

GENEVA (17 November 2023) – Israel must allow clean water and fuel into Gaza to activate the water supply network and desalination plants in the besieged enclave before it is too late, a UN expert warned today.

"Every hour that passes with Israel preventing the provision of safe drinking water in the Gaza strip, in brazen breach of international law, puts Gazans at risk of dying of thirst and diseases related to the lack of safe drinking water," said Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has announced that the complete depletion of fuel in Gaza is having catastrophic consequences, including the collapse in water supply, sewage and sanitation services, telecommunications and healthcare.

“I want to remind Israel that consciously preventing supplies needed for safe water from entering the Gaza Strip violates both international humanitarian and human rights law,” Arrojo-Agudo said. “The impact on public health and hygiene will be unimaginable and could result in more civilian deaths than the already colossal death toll from the bombardment of Gaza,” he said.

The expert warned that as usual, children will be the first affected by the water and sanitation crisis – particularly those under five years old – and women.

“These frequently invisible casualties of war are preventable, and Israel must prevent them,” he said. “Israel must stop using water as a weapon of war.”

“Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute, intentionally depriving the civilian population of conditions of life, calculated to bring about their destruction, is an act of extermination and classified as a crime against humanity,” Arrojo-Agudo warned.

According to UNRWA, around 70% of the population in Gaza is drinking salinised and contaminated water. This condition will escalate swiftly if Israel continues to block the entry of fuel into the blockaded area. UNRWA said public sewage pumping stations, 60 water wells in the south, the two main desalination plants in Rafah and the Middle Area, two main sewage pumps in the south, and the Rafah wastewater treatment plant have all ceased operations.

“People are already suffering from dehydration and waterborne diseases due to salinated and polluted water consumption from unsafe sources,” Arrojo-Agudo said. “Coupled with the massive displacement of thousands of people in recent days, this is the perfect scenario for an epidemic that will only punish innocents, once again.”

UNRWA has warned that humanitarian operations will begin to collapse this week due to a lack of fuel. UN OCHA said fuel is the driver of many aspects of the humanitarian response in Gaza, including desalination, electricity, healthcare and the operation of trucks that bring lifesaving aid from the Rafah crossing into the enclave.

The Special Rapporteur echoed warnings from UNRWA and other humanitarian aid agencies that 23,000 litres of fuel that entered Gaza on Tuesday represented only 9% the daily requirement to sustain lifesaving activities.

“The deaths of children from thirst and disease are less visible and more silent than those caused by bombs, but are equally or more lethal,” Arrojo-Agudo said, urging the international community to ensure Israel meets its obligations under international law.

“The fate of Palestinians in Gaza is in Israel's hands,” the expert said.

Mr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in September 2020 and started his mandate on 1 November 2020. From 2016 to 2019, Mr. Arrojo-Agudo served as an elected member of the Spanish Parliament. He was Professor in the Area of Fundamentals of Economic Analysis at the University of Zaragoza from 1989 to 2011, and has been professor emeritus since 2011. During the last three decades, he has focused his research on economics and water management, publishing his work in more than 100 scientific articles and in 70 books.

Background

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Secretariat of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
Maria Acosta Lazo - [email protected]

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Dharisha Indraguptha - [email protected]

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