Right now, none of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip has access to a safe and secure supply of water.
The water situation was already severe before Israel’s bombardment began on 7 July. But now water experts are calling it a disaster.
Ninety percent of wells, wastewater treatment plants and desalination plants cannot operate due to power cuts and lack of fuel.In the video interview above, Monther Shublak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, says that much of the infrastructure has been damaged by Israeli bombing.
This includes Gaza’s central sewage pumping station which was recently upgraded with German taxpayer funding.
The wastewater treatment facility in Gaza was hit twice, he says, and could cause an environmental disaster in Gaza City.
Three wells and “a long list of water carriers and wastewater carriers” were damaged or destroyed all over the Gaza Strip, he says.
The Beach Well, which provides seawater to the only functioning desalination plant, was also destroyed.
Water workers killed
Trying to maintain the flow of water to people has been incredibly dangerous. Seven water technicians were killed while on duty at the height of the Israeli attack when almost half of Gaza’s territory was declared a no-go zone (see infographic below).
One of the workers, technician Zeyad Al Shawi, died on 14 July from critical injuries he suffered during an Israeli airstrike on 12 July as he opened valves to supply water to people in Rafah, southern Gaza, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility reported.
Due to the risks, workers could not access areas to carry out repairs or to operate pumps and open and close valves to direct water to different neighborhoods.
Repairs are also hampered because Israel’s eight-year-long siege prevents the importation of needed materials.
Water experts estimate the damage to be at least $20 million.
“The money of taxpayers or UN agencies is again and again wasted … during these endless wars,” Shublak says, referring to the constant cycle of donor-funded infrastructure being destroyed by Israel and then repaired with international aid.
Living without water
In the below video called Water Deprived, Fatma, a 45-year-old mother of nine from the heavily bombed Shujaiya neighborhood speaks about the difficulty of living with the unsanitary and health-threatening conditions caused by the water crisis.She and her family were displaced to a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. Three thousand people took shelter in that school alone and Fatma and her family are living in a classroom with 41 people.
“Contamination of water and lack of hygiene in the bathrooms can cause health problems,” she says. “We have so many children experiencing diarrhea and fever and they have to be treated now. We don’t want to risk the health of our children.”
A quarter of Gaza’s population was displaced at the height of Israel’s attack. As of yesterday, 370,000 people remain in temporary shelter, according to the UN.
Up to 100,000 people will need to be permanently rehoused because their homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
Gaza water disaster
The infographic below, produced by EWASH (the Emergency Water and Sanitation-Hygiene Group), highlights some of the facts about the Gaza water disaster.
It summarizes key facts about the critical damage to the water, sanitation and hygiene sector during the Israeli assault on Gaza, between 8 July and 5 August.
EWASH (ewash.org) is a coordinating body made up various stakeholders in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector in the occupied Palestinian territories. These include national and international nongovernmental organizations, UN agencies, academic and research institutions, the Palestinian Water Authority, the West Bank Water Department and the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility in Gaza.
You can also download the infographic as a PDF.
EWASH also produced and published both of the videos included in this post.