IRC alarmed by severe deterioration of water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in Gaza

  • Some Palestinians are being forced to survive on 3% of the minimum daily water needs.
  • Lack of clean water and sanitation facilities have increased rates of hepatitis, diarrhea among children under five, and other water-borne and communicable diseases.
  • Israel’s military invasion of Rafah threatens to further deteriorate conditions in southern Gaza.
  • “Put simply, we are witnessing a catastrophic decline in living standards and health conditions every day,” says IRC country director for the Gaza crisis, Kiryn Lanning.
Read our May 22 release

Gaza briefing

In Gaza, more than 2 million Palestinian civilians are facing peril and disaster every day. The secretary general of the UN calls this a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Following the work of IRC assessment teams on the ground, the IRC has initiated a response to the humanitarian crisis arising from the current conflict.

What are the main humanitarian challenges?

Israeli forces began airstrikes and ground operations after Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on October 7, 2023, killing 1,200 people and taking over 200 hostages—many of whom remain captive. Israeli military operations have since caused catastrophic destruction and widespread death and displacement throughout Gaza, particularly in the north, killing more than 34,000 Palestinians and injuring more than 78,000 others. More than 50% of the identified fatalities are said to be women and children.

Israel’s blockade of food, water, fuel and essential medicines and supplies is inflicting immense suffering on Palestinians. Currently, 100% of Gazans are facing crisis levels of food insecurity—the highest share ever classified for any area or country. To date, 32 people, including 28 children, have died of malnutrition and dehydration at hospitals in Gaza.

The health care system has collapsed, with attacks on hospitals leaving much of Gaza’s population without access to any treatment. Insecurity Insight recorded almost 800 incidents of violence against, or obstruction of access to, health care in Gaza since the outbreak of violence in October. As fuel reserves expire, doctors and nurses are becoming powerless to treat the sick and injured while ongoing border closures prevent patients in Gaza from traveling to Israel, the West Bank or East Jerusalem for treatment. Only 12 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals remain partially functional.

With 95% of Gazans lacking access to safe water and 1.7 million displaced into crowded settings, the IRC has warned of an imminent infectious disease outbreak in Gaza. Even with an immediate ceasefire, almost 12,000 people would lose their lives in Gaza as a result of disease. Nearly 90,000 could die of secondary health impacts alone should the conflict escalate further.

Within the first six weeks of 2024, the Israeli military denied access to more than 50% of aid missions planned for north of Wadi Gaza and 25% for areas south of Wadi Gaza. Throughout April, an average of 186 trucks crossed into Gaza per day—about 37% of the pre-conflict aid delivery rates. The closure of the Rafah and Kerem Shalom Crossings is leading to severe shortages of fuel and threatening the continuity of humanitarian interventions.

Aid delivery has been further constrained by the damage to roads, lack of fuel, and the displacement and death of at least 260 humanitarian aid workers, including over 190 U.N. staff. Gaza’s recovery after the fighting ends will depend on whether, and how intensely, Israel maintains its policy of preventing basic goods and services from entering Gaza.

Learn more about the crisis in Palestine.

A young child wearing a yellow jacket holds an adult's hands while they walk through a destroyed neighborhood in Gaza.
Displaced Gazans walk through a destroyed neighborhood during a temporary humanitarian ceasefire.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images
How is the IRC helping?

The IRC’s response in Gaza draws on our global experience and expertise in emergency response, as well as our longstanding presence in the region. In 2022, IRC teams across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya helped 6.3 million people. Local partners have been leading the response in Gaza and we are supporting their objectives through financial, technical and operational support.

Emergency Medical Teams

The IRC and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) have deployed five successive Emergency Medical Teams to provide emergency and life-saving medical care, including direct medical care at hospitals, and the distribution of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. The team, composed of trauma doctors, surgeons, pediatricians and disaster experts, are offering surge and relief support to hospitals and providing life-saving medical care to injured Palestinians. To date, our EMTs have delivered at least 219 surgeries and 636 consultations, including minor procedures and critical care.

Mental health support

In partnership with Anera, the IRC is working to provide essential mental health and psychosocial support to Palestinian children. We are utilizing a comprehensive approach that prioritizes the needs of children between the ages of 4 and 18, to implement therapeutic activities including play, art therapy and life skills training. Our activities are designed to empower children to cope with their experiences, express themselves creatively, and develop essential life skills for the future, thereby promoting healing, resilience, and emotional wellbeing. By fostering a safe and supportive environment, we aim to mitigate the long-term impact of the crisis in Palestine and have started providing psychosocial support services for 9,000 children between 4 and 11 years old and informal literacy and numeracy sessions for 1,200 children, targeting people sheltering in schools.

The IRC has also partnered with Nafs and begun delivering mental health and psychosocial services (MHPSS) activities through six mobile community centers—three in Gaza and three in the West Bank. Our partnership with Nafs is expected to deliver support to 5,000 children within the next few months.

In partnership with the Psychosocial Counseling Center for Women (PSCCW), the IRC is addressing the severe challenges facing Palestinian women and children in the West Bank. The partnership focuses on empowering these communities through comprehensive mental health and psychosocial support, supporting 250 women gender-based violence survivors and 470 children to develop resilience against trauma. Additionally, the initiative includes economic empowerment through cash-for-work programs for 40 female graduates, aiming to strengthen economic independence and enhance community well-being.

Medical supplies and pharmaceuticals

The IRC has procured and delivered 46 metric tons of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies which the IRC and our partners are distributing to support health facilities across Gaza. These include pediatric and psychotropic medicines as well as trauma supplies and are based on needs identified and coordinated across health actors working in Gaza.

A truck filled with supplies procured by the IRC is en route to Gaza.
Medical supplies procured by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) arrive in Gaza to be distributed to hospitals and clinics to support critical health and medical services.
Photo: IRC

Support for displaced families

We have partnered with Palestinian NGO, Juzoor for Health and Social Development, to address the health and mental health needs of those displaced and to provide access to basic services for children and families. Together, our three mobile health teams have provided more than 10,000 patient consultations in northern Gaza. The teams have been providing health services in three shelter clusters in northern Gaza since February. In the first week of March alone, these clinics served almost 7,000 patients and we expect to reach more than 30,000 in the following months.

Moreover, we have also begun MHPSS activities for 12,000 women and children and early childhood development (ECD) activities for 6,000 children between 1 and 4 years old in shelters in the north. Juzoor is using a combination of their own and IRC ECD materials and providing children's activity kits to support children affected by the crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Helped families with basic needs

The IRC and Welfare Association (Taawon) partnered to combat the severe hunger affecting displaced families in Rafah, southern Gaza, where over one million people have been displaced and have sought refuge in what is considered Gaza’s last haven. Together, we delivered fresh food parcels to approximately 3,500 families between January and February 2024.

What needs to happen now?

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for a permanent ceasefire to protect Palestinians from harm, enable the release of all hostages, and allow for a step-change in the assistance provided to people across the whole of Gaza. 

Urge Congress to call for a ceasefire.

“In a matter of weeks, Gaza became the most dangerous place in the world for civilians,” said Sam Duerden, the IRC crisis/team lead for the occupied Palestinian territory. “Tens of thousands of people have been killed, more than three-quarters of the population displaced and critical infrastructure destroyed. Right now, the people of Gaza need extensive humanitarian assistance to survive, but most of all the restoration of public services and the basic right to live free from fear."

The IRC plans to scale its programming in Gaza as soon as a ceasefire is in place. The IRC will aim to work directly and through partners to provide nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, healthcare, and protection particularly focused on separated children.

A Palestinian girl walks with her father after the Friday prayer in Gaza on August 4, 2023
A Palestinian girl walks with her father after the Friday prayer in Gaza on August 4, 2023.
Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images