Pedro Arrojo, UN special rapporteur: “The war in Gaza is heading towards genocide” | International

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Gaza civilians are already experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe. A group of seven independent UN experts warned this week that an Israeli army ceasefire in the Gaza Strip is necessary to “avoid a serious risk of genocide.” The Spanish Pedro Arrojo (Madrid, 72 years old), special rapporteur on the Human Rights to Drinking Water and Sanitation – member of the UN group of experts – approaches this scenario: “Although there is no manifest intention, the data show that “The war is heading towards genocide.” His position is based on Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which understands as extermination “the deprivation of access to food or medicine, among others,” such as water.

“Inevitably, diseases will skyrocket [en Gaza] and many will die because they do not have access to the most basic medications,” Arrojo told EL PAÍS by phone. This independent expert, also a professor at the University of Zaragoza, specifies that in the Strip “there is no drinking water left” and that hundreds of thousands are drinking salty and unhealthy water to avoid dying of thirst.

“The situation has reached a catastrophic turning point,” said this week this group of seven UN rapporteurs, which holds not only Israel, but also its international allies, responsible for the protection of the 2.2 million Palestinians. who reside in the Palestinian enclave.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Drinking Water and Sanitation, Pedro Arrojo, in a photo from 2018.Gustavo Amador (EFE)

The humanitarian aid convoys that arrive in the Strip through the Egyptian Rafah crossing are “insufficient, to the point that they do not cover even 1% of the drinking water needed,” according to Arrojo. The UN had already warned that Gaza residents have been living since the start of the war, on October 7, with less than three liters of water a day, well below the 50 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. to satisfy drinking and hygiene.

The seven rapporteurs also expressed concern for the safety of humanitarian workers and doctors, who are “protected by international law.” The statement, in which experts quote UN Secretary General António Guterres, reminds both the Israeli army and Hamas that “even war has rules.” Since the start of the Israeli counteroffensive, 9,227 people have died, including almost 4,000 children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

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Drinking unhealthy water

Gaza has three main sources of water: aquifers, desalination plants and pipelines connecting to Israel. The aquifers, according to Arrojo, are being overexploited, since more than three times the water that is replenished in them naturally is being extracted. This not only reduces freshwater levels, but also causes a “massive infiltration” of salt water, which comes mainly from the Mediterranean Sea.

Desalination plants are only partially operating as a result of power outages in the Strip. Of the three in the enclave, according to CNN, only one operates at 7% of its usual capacity. Before the war, 90% of the supply came from this source. “Cutting off the power is cutting off the water,” says the expert.

The last source, the one supplied through three pipelines connected to Israel, through which 10% of the water consumed in Gaza enters, was cut off at the beginning of the war. The supply was only partially resumed (two of the three pipes) as of October 15.

Faced with this scenario, Arrojo denounces that thousands of people are consuming salt water from agricultural wells, which they extract manually, “in order to live,” as long as they have enough fuel or energy to operate the pumps. The main problem is that continuous intake of salty and unhealthy water can cause diseases such as diarrhea, which later translate into dehydration or kidney collapse. “Drinking this water makes you vomit, but if you stop, you will die in five or six days,” he adds.

In addition to consumption, sanitation is also on the limit. The five wastewater treatment plants have been forced to close, which has caused them to mix with the water from the aquifers and waste to accumulate in some streets, generating even more risk of diseases that can mainly affect the children. “Statistics will be made of how many people die in air raids, but those who have become ill from consuming non-potable water will be left in the shadows,” he says.

Stop the fire

For experts, it is essential that Israel declare a ceasefire in order to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid, while allowing an “opening of communication channels” to guarantee the release of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel this Friday, for the third time since the start of the conflict, to ask for greater protection for civilians. “We have to continue avoiding an escalation of this conflict (...). “We have to do more to protect Palestinian civilians,” Blinken said.

The White House defends launching “humanitarian pauses” with specific objectives, such as introducing humanitarian aid to the Strip and allowing the departure of foreigners and the wounded to Egypt; but opposes a ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out this option: “We will not stop until victory,” he said. He has also argued that he will only study this alternative once all the hostages, which number 242, have been released.

The UN General Assembly last week approved a non-binding resolution to call for an “immediate, lasting and sustained humanitarian truce”, an action that the panel welcomed with “hope”, although it believes that action must be taken soon. For Arrojo, the votes against — among which are those from the United States, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Austria — are “shameful and a disgrace.” “At least Spain has a position of dignity,” he adds, referring to the Government's support for the truce.

Arrojo believes that the key to avoiding a further escalation in the conflict lies with the United States, together with Europe. “The great Western powers protect Israel and allow it to do what it wants.” The expert assures that more and more experts, and even UN high commissioners, are consolidating a narrative around the need to stop the attacks to introduce humanitarian aid into Gaza. “Several discussions are being opened in Geneva. No one now refutes the arguments that lead me to indicate that a crime against humanity is being committed. The status [de Roma, el que regula el Tribunal Penal Internacional] is clear".

Palestinians gather to collect water in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, this Thursday.
Palestinians gather to collect water in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, this Thursday.MOHAMMED SALEM (REUTERS)

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