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02 March, 2024
 
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Gaza's clean water shortage sparks health emergency

Polluted water and saltwater puts lives at risk

Source: The Guardian

Palestinians who fled to southern Gaza, after warnings from Israel to leave their homes, are standing in line for hours to get contaminated water they believe is making them ill.

Long queues of people waiting to fill jerry cans are now ubiquitous across the territory as water becomes increasingly scarce, a result of restrictions on water and power imposed by Israel.

Until 3 November, none of the water pipes from Israel into Gaza were working – although two out of the three are now functioning – and a pipe connecting the southern towns of Rafah and Khan Younis is leaking, according to the UN.

Eman Basher, a teacher, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that her children had been unwell since leaving their home in Gaza City.

“My kids have been suffering from stomach flu with symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea, which I always assumed is the normal result of sleeping on the floor or change of weather, just to learn that it is caused by contaminated water we drink daily and queue for hours to get,” said Basher.

“We’ve been drinking this water for 15 days and fighting to get it,” she added.

According to the UN, only 5% of Gaza’s water needs are now being met. Lorries with aid that entered the territory from Egypt on Wednesday carried enough water for 15,000 people for one day. More than 1.4 million people are now displaced in the territory.

Some people in the south of the territory have been getting water from desalination plants but they are operating at just 40% capacity. Plants in northern Gaza are not operational.

Water from wells is being accessed to try to ease some of the burden, but it has a relatively high salt content.

Maysoun Owda, who has been sheltering at the UN school in Khan Younis, said: “Most of the water in the strip is polluted. People in the shelters drink polluted water, there is no potable water and it’s not provided by UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestinian refugees].”

Izzeddin Jarbou, a Palestinian living in southern Gaza, said: “People go to any place they think might have water and wait for hours in long queues until they are able to find water that’s safe to drink and wash with.

“We pay money for water, we pay to move it to our homes, but a lot of people aren’t able to,” he said.

Gaza has struggled with access to water since Israel imposed a blockade in 2007, with groundwater sources becoming polluted from overuse. But conditions have worsened since Israel tightened the siege of Gaza after the attacks by Hamas last month.

Palestinians try to salvage their belongings from the building containing the al-Magazi bakery, destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.

A lack of fuel has prevented desalination plants from operating at full capacity, and limits the ability to pump water to homes and transport it on trucks. Fuel shortages also mean sewage treatment plants have not been operating, leading to wastewater emptying into the sea, further polluting the coastal aquifer.

James Elder, speaking for the UN children’s agency, Unicef, told media this week that many people could not get anything but salty water.

“Gaza’s water production capacity is a mere 5% of its usual daily output. Child deaths – particularly infants – to dehydration are a growing threat,” he said.

“If there is no ceasefire, no water, no medicine, and no release of abducted children?’ said Elder. “Then we hurtle towards even greater horrors afflicting innocent children.”

This article was amended on 4 November 2023. An earlier version said that none of the water pipes from Israel into Gaza were working. This was the case, but prior to publication two of the three were operational and the text has been updated to reflect this.

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Cyprus  |  water  |  Gaza  |  war

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