Babies are being “delivered into hell” in Gaza with many others likely dying as a result of conflict with Israel and increasingly dire conditions in the enclave, UN humanitarians warned on Friday.Reiterating urgent international calls for a ceasefire, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that there have been nearly 20,000 births since the start of widespread Israeli bombardment, in response to Hamas-led attacks in Israel that left some 1,200 dead and approximately 250 taken hostage.
Chronic aid access problems have meant that Caesarean sections have been performed without anaesthetic while other women have been unable to deliver their stillborn babies because medical staff are overwhelmed, the UN agency said.
“Mothers face unimaginable challenges in accessing adequate medical care, nutrition, and protection before, during and after giving birth,” said UNICEF Communications Specialist Tess Ingram.
“Becoming a mother should be a time for celebration. In Gaza, it’s another child delivered into hell.”
“The inhumane living conditions – barely any clean water, clean toilets and possibility to keep the surroundings clean – will enable Hepatitis A to spread further and highlight how explosively dangerous the environment is for the spread of disease,” Tedros tweeted on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday.
Latest WHO data indicates that on average, 500 people are sharing one toilet and over 2,000 people have to use a single shower, increasing the risk of disease spread.
In addition to a sharp rise in upper respiratory infections, diarrhoea cases among children under five recorded during the last three months of 2023 were 26 times higher than reports from the same period in 2022, the UN health agency noted.
“People are being pushed into ever smaller places they’re in overcrowded shelters with lack of access to clean water, lack of access to toilets,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.
“A large chunk of the population in Gaza – people who are injured and bombarded – need immediate medical help, the WHO official said, noting that Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis had only two doctors remaining in its emergency department compared to 24 before the war, with only 14 intensive care beds today, down from 45 and only four nurses available out of 20 initially.
To help the most vulnerable women and children in Gaza, UNICEF has ensured the delivery of milk formula and supplements for mothers who are too weak to breastfeed, along with medical supplies for overstretched medical teams – but much more is needed.
Speaking from Amman in Jordan after returning from southern Gaza, Ms. Ingram explained that staff at the overwhelmed Emirati Hospital in Rafah were forced to discharge mothers “within three hours of a Caesarean” – a situation that is “beyond belief and requires immediate action”.
Some 105 days since the start of the war, she insisted that constant bombardment and displacement “directly impacts newborns, resulting in higher rates of undernutrition, developmental issues and other health complications”.
Approximately 135,000 children under two years old are believed to be at risk of severe malnutrition today, Ms. Ingram continued, amid “inhumane” conditions characterised by makeshift shelters, poor nutrition and unsafe water.
“Seeing newborn babies suffer, while some mothers bleed to death, should keep us all awake at night,” she said. “Knowing two very young Israeli children abducted on 7 October have still not been released should also keep us awake.”
Deadly toll nears 25,000
Echoing those concerns, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, expressed deep concern at reports that nearly 25,000 people have been reported killed, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. A full 70 per cent are believed to be women and children and at least another 61,500 have been injured, while “several thousands more are under the rubble, many presumed dead”.
In its latest update on the crisis, UN aid coordination office, OCHA repeated deep concerns that safe and effective relief missions “anywhere in Gaza” remained “heavily compromised by Israeli restrictions on the import of critical equipment, including appropriate communication devices”.
Access denials by the Israeli military to areas north of Wadi Gaza “have also impeded efforts to a scale up the provision of life-saving assistance there and adding significant cost to the overall response”, the UN office maintained.
Briefing journalists in Geneva from Gaza, Head of UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ajith Sunghay, said that displaced people continue to arrive in Rafah “in their thousands”.
“I’ve seen men and children digging for bricks to be able to hold in place tents made with plastic bags. This is a massive human rights crisis. And a major, human-made, humanitarian disaster. Gaza needs urgent scaling up of humanitarian aid, including of the protection response.”
The days-long telecommunications blackout has continued, Mr. Sunghay said, adding that this “added to the confusion and fear” as it prevented Gazans from accessing services and information on where they should evacuate.
“It is a pressure cooker environment here, in the midst of utter chaos, given the terrible humanitarian situation, shortages, and pervasive fear and anger”, the OHCHR official continued, before describing how “heavy bombardment of Middle Gaza and Khan Younis” was “clearly visible and audible from Rafah – especially at night”.
After arriving in Gaza on Monday, Mr. Sunghay said that hear had could “hear bombing sometimes several times an hour”. Night-time was “the most terrifying time” during strikes, he noted, for Gazans and the over 100 civilians still held hostage in the enclave, who are “unseen (and) who most certainly hear the same sounds and feel the same fear”.