Samer el-Shaer finds it increasingly tiring to fill numerous buckets of water from a nearby well located beside a mosque in his neighborhood in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip. The well was dug by benevolent organizations to support destitute residents with water since they cannot afford purchasing what they need from the private desalinization stations in the city.
“I fill what my family needs each day and carry it for 300 meters till I reach my house to provide it with clean water,” el-Shaer said. He added that it is not only the high cost of this water what prevents him from resorting to it as an available source of water, but it is also the grave concerns he has over the possible health dangers. “This water is not safe, we are sure of this. Its taste, or even color are very worrying, this is why we do not trust it,” el-Shaer said.
In fact, recent comments made by the Water Authority in Gaza last week strongly support residents’ concerns. Yaser el-Shanti, the head of the Authority said that 95 percent of the water in Gaza is not safe and improper for the human use.
“We do not give permission for our people to drink the water running from their taps that is pumped from the local municipalities. This water is only to be used in the household, laundries, and showers,” el-Shanti said.
Many factors have rendered Gaza’s water unhealthy, and even dangerous, to be used by people. According to citizens’ complaints, the water is salty, polluted, and not sufficient as people in Gaza suffer regular cut offs in water supply as it is with the electricity.
Jamal Khatab decided years ago to use a filter in his house to make sure that he can get less polluted water for his family. He considered it a good option compared to the public service even as he learned that using the filer can cause osteoporosis in the long term as it absorbs iron and calcium from the water. “This fact has deeply disturbed me, what should I do to evade this result,” Khatab wondered. But he totally rejects the possibility of turning back to the service presented by Gaza’s municipality.
Other families, like Mohsen el-Jamal’s, resorted for digging their own wells inside their land to get safe water. “Three years ago, I decided along with my other two siblings to dig our own well to provide our homes with water. We were able to afford the expenses, but many of our neighbors cannot dig their own wells for financial reasons,” el-Jamal said.
Meanwhile, the majority of Gaza’s residents buy what drinking water they need from private desalinization stations that can provide it at affordable prices. The Water Authority said that it does not oversee the service presented to the public by these stations to make sure they abide with the established norms, and it has long warned citizens of drinking from these stations. Most of them are not licensed, and work without a regard to the Water Authority’s rules.
Monther Shbla, a director at the Gaza Water Authority explained the reasons behind the rapid deterioration of water’s status in the Gaza Strip. He said that the water saved in the wells is not protected and always mixed with sea water and even sewage water. Pollutant materials can be easily found in some main wells that provide neighborhoods with water. In addition, the lack of the necessary equipment needed to maintain and repair the water infrastructure in Gaza has delayed or prevented any genuine efforts to increase the professionalism of the local network so that the services can be better.
The frequent power outages have also made it extremely difficult for the municipalities to provide citizens’ homes with water around the clock. Local municipalities pump water for less than four hours a day, a very limited period for Gaza’s residents. According to numbers released by the Water Authority, a typical Gaza resident consumes less than 80 cubic meters of water per day. The World Health Organization says it takes at least 150 cubic meters of water per day for each individual to live a dignified life. On an annual basis, Gaza consumes 180 million cubic meters of water, while the underground aquifers do not get more than 80 million cubic meters each year to compensate what has been taken and consumed from the wells.
At the same time, the restricted amounts of water are not safe and are always at stake of possible polluting factors, such as salty seawater and wastewater along with the solid garbage that sometimes thrown close to water wells.
“Rates of chloride and nitrates have reached intimidating levels in our wells, we are very much concerned over the possible catastrophic consequences on the public health in the long term. We cannot take actions to prevent this tragedy,” Shbla added.
Samah el-Derawi has started to observe some of the consequences of this situation. “My teeth are growing to be more yellowish. Nothing seems to be working out with them to clean or make them look pretty again,” el-Derawi said. “This is what I was able to notice, but what about other hidden impacts on my health?”
The last Israeli onslaught waged on Gaza in the summer of 2014 devastated more than 750 water wells, and less than 150 were repaired while the rest are left in ruins. The suffocating Israeli restrictions imposed in Gaza further restrict the allowed quantities of cement and other raw materials that are necessary to fix the water infrastructure in the beleaguered Gaza.
“All what is being allowed into Gaza is used in constructing homes for those who are homeless after the war, water’s infrastructure is still waiting to be treated as a priority,” Shbla concluded.