- Published on Friday, 03 August 2012 09:31
By Karl Schembri/Oxfam
As the blockade entered its sixth year, the 1.6 million population of the Gaza Strip is spending as much as a third of household income on drinking water, creating hardships and health risks for the poorest who cannot afford to buy water from vendors. For the latter, the only option is private and agricultural wells that are mostly polluted.
The situation is particularly precarious for Gaza‟s children, who make up around half of the enclave‟s population and for whom particular public health threats from unsafe water have been identified. Gaza's sole water source, the aquifer, is contaminated with dangerous levels of chlorides, nitrates and other pollutants, some far in excess of WHO guideline values, the result of long-standing water-security, sanitation and environmental crises. Also, with sea water seeping into the aquifer as more underground water is extracted, most of the water reaching households is salinated.
The public water network is similarly chemically and microbiologically contaminated from source and during distribution and storage, making tap water unsafe to drink. Microbiological water contamination, mainly from sewage seeping into the aquifer, is pervasive and responsible for high incidents of diarrhoea and other water-associated diseases in Gaza‟s children under five in particular.
In a project funded by the European Union‟s humanitarian office (ECHO), Oxfam, together with its partner Coastal Municipal Water Utility (CMWU) has just inaugurated a new desalination plant and water distribution pipeline in Rafah which brings drinkable water to household taps reaching 8,400 individuals.
Abu Rami from Al Salam neighbourhood in Rafah is seen in picture filling a cup with drinking water at the Al Salam desalination plant on the day of the inauguration last Tuesday.
"Finally, for the first time in our life, we can drink water directly from our taps," he said. "It will take me a while to remember that I can drink tap water."
The project took much longer to finish than projected because of numerous obstacles encountered in getting essential raw materials and equipment into Gaza through Israel‟s crossings. Oxfam‟s programme manager in Gaza, Julie Campbell, said: "Projects such as these are essential to relieve Gaza's humanitarian situation – a completely avoidable situation that is quickly becoming irreversible unless immediate action is taken to address the water problem at its core."