WHO fears "unfathomable catastrophe" if Israel ramps up assault on Rafah

GENEVA: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday warned of an "unfathomable catastrophe" that the potential expansion of Israeli ground assault could cause in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip.

Speaking to a virtual press briefing from Rafah, Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, said 1.5 million people crammed into the city with nowhere safe to go, sparking a new wave of displacement and additional injuries.

That could have "dire consequences" on people's health and push the already ailing health system closer to the brink of collapse, Peeperkorn said.

There are only three partially functional hospitals in Rafah, supplemented by three field hospitals, offering just 450 beds that pale in comparison to actual needs, the WHO representative said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also made similar comments on the devastating conditions of Rafah on Wednesday. "There is a lack of food, drinking water, sanitation, health care, and safety," it said.

"Coupled with constant stress and fear, and taking into account injuries, age, and disabilities, many residents are in a weakened state and at elevated risk of dying from common infections or diseases," the humanitarian organization added.

From November to Feb. 9, around 40 percent of WHO missions have made it to north Gaza, whereas 45 percent have been facilitated to the south. The rest have been denied, impeded or postponed, Peeperkorn lamented.

The health agency called for sustained humanitarian corridors to continue providing vital aid, even if an immediate ceasefire is not reached.


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