Restoring public access to water in sun-drenched Palestinian town
By Catherine Weibel
AD DHAHIRIYA, occupied Palestinian territory, 13 September 2012 - In the small town of Dhahiriya, few people dare venture into the sweltering 38C heat that engulfed the Old City’s stone houses and the many modern buildings erected around it.
The contrasted landscape of dry land and lush green patches that surrounds this sleepy town in the Southern West Bank gives a hint to the region’s secret: large quantities of water are available underground. However bringing this fresh water to Palestinians in town remains a challenge.
“People in Dhahiriya used to receive water through the network only twice a year and those living in houses perched on top of the hills did not receive any because of weak water pressure in the pipes,” says Bilas Dongol, Head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene department in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
Because of lack of sufficient access to the municipality’s water network, people had to rely on tankered water sold by private vendors at the high rate of 30 shekels per cubic meter (about 7.5 USD), when water from the municipality costs 5 shekels only (about one USD).
To help Palestinian families in Dhahiriya gain fair and sufficient access to water, UNICEF launched a project to improve the existing water network and add new sections, benefiting nearly 8,000 people in town. With funds from the Government of Spain and the United Kingdom National Committee for UNICEF, and in cooperation with the municipality, the water networks and the connections to filing stations have been rehabilitated. The new high pressure lines bring water even to those households living on top of the hills.
Families now receive fresh water every other month, which they store in their houses’ underground cistern; they no longer have to buy water from private vendors. Two schools with a total of nearly 1,000 students also benefited from the improved water network.
“We no longer have to spend money on buying tankered water”, says Fatmeh, a mother whose house has just been connected to the improved network. “My children used to wash themselves only twice a week, but now they can wash every day, which is crucial in such a hot climate”, she explains.
The family does not waste one drop of the precious liquid. The “grey water” they used to wash themselves is recycled to shower the handful of plants which grow in their tiny courtyard. Mohammed and Bazel, Fatmeh’s youngest children, say they had never seen so much water before and marvel at their new green surroundings.
Engineer Sami Shneiwer, the mayor of Dhahiriya, is grateful for the new water scheme, but says it is only the beginning of a long journey. “The daily lives of thousands of people have greatly improved thanks to the renovated water network”, he says, adding that he hopes to complete safe water supply schemes for everyone in town with the support of humanitarian organizations.
UNICEF oPt Special representative Jean Gough said that nothing was more important than ensuring child access to safe drinking water, and that it was heartwarming to work with several women engineers employed by the municipality. “It shows the power of girls’ education. Yesterday they were in school and university, today they can help their communities access water and prevent any significant outbreak of water borne diseases which could be fatal to children,”, she said.