In Gaza, safe water supply changes lives

Water tank in Gaza
A 3,000-cubic-metre water tank is now serving more than 50,000 residents of Rafah in the occupied Palestinian territory. (Photo: UNDP/PAPP)

Water is scarce in the occupied Palestinian territory and supplies barely meet the needs of the Palestinian people. More than 13 percent of the population currently has no access to running water, and many of the existing water facilities are dilapidated. Water quality is very poor: only 7 percent of the water supplied for domestic use meets World Health Organization standards.

Thanks to a UNDP initiative, however, people like Salem Mdalal and his family from Rafah in the Gaza Strip, getting water is no longer a daily hardship.

Highlights

  • Thanks to an emergency water supply and rehabilitation programme in the Gaza Strip, residents are seeing a huge improvement in the water supply reaching their homes.
  • In the city of Rafah, a 3000-cubic-metre water tank has made life easier for 50 percent of the city's population of 102,000.
  • According to WHO, over 90% of water in Gaza is unsuitable for human consumption.
  • Gaza’s coastal aquifer is over-abstracted. Aquifer may be unsustainable by 2014, with damage irreversible by 2020.
  • UNDP has completed over 200 water supply and sanitation projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • The project is part of the Emergency Water Supply and Rehabilitation Programme, funded by Japan for a total of some US$ 5.4 million implemented in partnership with the Palestinian Water Authority and Coastal Municipal Water Utility.
  • UNDP is implementing a USD 58 million project to construct the Khan Younis Waste Water Treatment Plant in the Gaza Strip. The Plant will protect public health, water resources and environment of more than 320,000 residents and create more than 40,000 working days.

Mdalal heads a family of 12 and lives with his brother in the same building, which houses 30 people. The building’s residents consume 5,000 litres of water every day; until recently, the city could only provide water via pipes for three to four hours, twice a week, and the flow of water was very weak. Mdalal frequently had to buy drinkable water from vendors roaming the streets in their water tank trucks. Each 1,000 litres cost NIS 20 (US$ 5.25).

“We had a water crisis,” Mdalal says. “I had to take extreme measures at home. We only flushed the toilet twice a day to conserve water. Imagine a family of 12 flushing the toilet twice a day only!”

“I also set a schedule for showers and urged my children to get out of the shower if they were in for too long,” he adds. “This caused tensions in the family but what could we do.”

The family’s situation eased after UNDP built a 3,000-cubic-metre water tank serving Rafah and provided booster pumps to supply water to Rafah’s residents through a US $1 million project funded by the Government of Japan.

Along with the people living in Mdalal’s building, 50 percent of the city’s population of 102,000 people experienced a huge improvement in the water supply reaching their homes, after eight years of constant water shortages.

Power supply is also scarce in the Gaza Strip, only available eight to 10 hours a day.

Because of uncoordinated supply of water and electricity, Mdalal and his brothers had to schedule shifts every night to check water supply and to turn on booster pumps as soon as electricity and water were available at the same time. Things are different now.

“We celebrated the day when the Rafah water tank became operational,” Mdalal smiles. “Yesterday, water reached our roof tanks without the lifting pump. That was a record for us.”

“The Rafah water tank changed our lives,” he continues. “I no longer need to compromise hygiene, live in a tense house, trade water shifts with my brothers, and worry about the exorbitantly high cost of water.”

UNDP has completed more than 200 water supply and sanitation projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Projects ranged from strengthening water and sanitation authorities to the construction of water supply and distribution networks, storage reservoirs and house connections.

The water tank in Rafah is part of an emergency water supply and rehabilitation programme that UNDP is implementing in the Northern Governorates of the Gaza Strip, at a total cost of US $5.4 million, provided by the Government of Japan.

“I wish this project was done eight years ago,” when severe water shortages began in Gaza, Mdalal says. “It would have spared a lot of suffering. Now, we all save money and have access to the water we need to lead normal lives.”

“We turn on the tap at any time and we get water. It may be too mundane to you but for us it is a great feat!”

DANIA DARWISH is a Communications Specialist in UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People.

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