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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
21 March 2011

UNICEF Helps Make Safe, Reliable Water Possible in the oPt Marking World Water Day 2011

By Monica Awad

RAFAH, Gaza Strip – For the first time in her life, Nagham, 7, no longer fears drinking contaminated water. “Now I enjoy drinking water,” she says. “It does not have strange tastes.”

Nagham, who lives with her grandparents in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, eagerly drinks from UNICEF’s newly-established water filling points. “I get thirsty when walking back home from school and I stop by the water filling points and drink water,” she says.

Water is a basic requirement for all life, yet water resources are proving scarcer amid competing demands. Tomorrow marks World Water Day 2011, which seeks to highlight the importance of access to water through activities across the world.

Water Costs

In the Gaza Strip, an estimated 97 per cent of people are connected to water networks. But the supply of water is often intermittent. It is estimated that 90 to 95 per cent of water sources in Gaza is not fit for human consumption due to high chloride and nitrate levels.

This puts children at risk of water-borne diseases and forces households to purchase drinking water. Families here pay an average of more than $7 for a cubic meter of tankered water. That’s almost six times the average price charged for piped water, exposing already impoverished families to additional vulnerabilities

Nagham’s family used to have to buy drinking water. But after installing a desalination unit with the help of UNICEF, they now get safe drinking water piped to their home.

Elsewhere, UNICEF, in partnership with the Governments of Japan, Australia, and Spain has installed eight desalination units, benefiting 60,000 people in southern Gaza. The partners have also installed water pumps and supported the provision of water tanks that cover 151 schools in vulnerable areas of the strip, reaching more than 70,000 students.

Most of them have also benefited from the newly-rehabilitated water and sanitation facilities in schools.

“We are continuously working with the Palestinian Water Authority, the Coastal Municipal Water Utility and others to reach out to most vulnerable communities to make sure that children and their families have water that is affordable and reliable, and is of good quality’ said UNICEF Special Representative Jean Gough.

Consolidated Efforts

Just 40 km away in the West Bank, children also face water problems, but of a different nature. While families in Gaza endure water quality problems, families in the West Bank suffer from water scarcity due to limited rainfall, coupled with already disproportionate water allocation, and the Israeli restrictions on drilling of new water wells.

It has made life extremely difficult, especially for the most vulnerable groups of people.

Fara’a refugee camp — one of the 19 United Nations Relief and Words Agency run-refugee camps in the West Bank — is home to 7,600 registered refugees, more than 50 per cent of whom are under the age of 18.

The vast majority of the camp’s residents live below the poverty line, are unemployed and face water shortages.

In 2010, the Palestinian Water Authority drilled a well, for which UNICEF installed a water pump with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency. The pump now enables the residents of the camp to get reliable and clean tap water.

Overcoming Challenges

The Palestinian Authority is constantly working to improve the quantity and quality of water for Palestinian families despite the many political challenges.

“In partnership with UNICEF, we managed to drill water wells, install water pumps, install desalination units, and train our staff, thanks to our donors who made all of this possible,” said Palestinian Water Authority Minister Dr. Shaddad Attili.

The Palestinian Authority faces many challenges in supplying water sources, including lack of permits to build in areas under Israeli control and a limited water supply to Palestinians.

To mark World Water Day, Nagham in Rafah and other children will be participating in various activities. They include story writing and drawing contests, awareness raising sessions and a children’s song on importance of preserving water.

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