By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 8 August 2006 – The water point in the southern Gaza town of Joret al Lout is the only place to get drinkable water for the more than 10,000 people who live there.
Half of those in the poor and densely populated community are children. Many can be seen at the water point, filling bottles and jerry cans. Children like Mahmoud Abdullah, 13, help as best they can with the severe shortage of safe water.
“We are filling water bottles because we have no drinkable water at home, and if water is available it is salty,” says Mahmoud.
People in Joret al Lout have not had drinkable running water in their homes since 28 June, when the region’s only power plant was bombed. Even when they did have electricity, the running water was salty because the deteriorating infrastructure allowed seawater to infiltrate the system.
Environmental and health concerns
Ground water supplies in the occupied Palestinian territory have generally become polluted by agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers, and by inadequate sewage treatment and the over-pumping of wells. The ongoing crisis that started in June has made matters worse.
“The water is deteriorating with time,” says the Director of the Coastal Municipal Water Utility, Munzer Shublaq. “We have problems of high concentration of chloride. Northern areas have been hit by high nitrate, which is over the norms of the World Health Organization.”
Water has been a longstanding issue in the West Bank and Gaza, which suffer from a chronic water shortage that has prevented sustained economic growth, damaged the environment and threatened the health of Palestinians.
Recent disruptions in water and sanitation services have increased the risks of communicable diseases, raising even more urgent public health concerns.
Family water kits
To help alleviate the water crisis, UNICEF has been working on a series of projects in Gaza.
“The first thing we've been doing is to distribute water kits to families in deprived areas that have difficult access to the water network,” says the head of UNICEF’s Gaza office, Laurent Chapuis.
The kits are composed of collapsible jerry cans and buckets for carrying and storing water, as well as purifying tablets. These tools allow families to preserve water once they have access to it.
UNICEF has also delivered large water tanks enabling municipalities to truck water to deprived neighborhoods and is building five wells, including one in Joret al Lout.
In addition, UNICEF is working with the Palestinian water utility to distribute water-quality field test kits and has raised awareness on hygiene, food and water preservation – all in an effort to help families