22 March 2007

OPT: Palestinians cope with water scarcity in Gaza

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 22 March 2007 – The drawings of hundreds by Palestinian schoolchildren were on display at a ceremony in Gaza today to mark World Water Day 2007. The 25 best drawings inspired by the theme ‘Coping with Water Scarcity’ were selected as winners during the event.
“I drew a painting about the use of water, because water is something that we have to care about,” said Islam Abu Seedo, 10. “It is one of the most important things in life and the whole world should know its importance. We can’t live without water: We drink it, we take showers with it, and we use water in everything we do.”
Most Palestinian children live with far less than the recommended daily minimum amount of 20 litres of clean water. In Gaza, it is hard to obtain because salinity and sewage have seeped into the coastal aquifer.
The consequences will affect generations to come. Schools and clinics have inadequate and insufficient water storage systems and sanitary facilities, and poorly maintained connections to networks.

Planning for future needs
In the poorest communities, bad sanitary conditions put children at risk of water-borne infections. A lack of clean drinking water also increases the chance of diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis A and typhoid.
“Well water is essential to Palestinians and to the future of Palestinian people because without pure and clean water supplies Palestinians have no future,” said UNICEF Project Officer Eman Aqeel in the organization’s Gaza Zonal Office.
“The children now are the second generation of Palestinians using this land and water so they need to learn how to save for their future,” he continued. “The Palestinian Authority also is trying to solve the problem but really time is running out.”
This year, 1.4 million people who are currently without access to safe drinking water in Gaza and the West Bank will benefit from UNICEF programmes to rehabilitate or construct 14 water networks, 15 wells and numerous boreholes, and to install chlorination systems. This work will focus on schools and health facilities in areas where the need is greatest.

‘Two problems with water’
Along with the child art exhibition for World Water Day, UNICEF has been collaborating with the Ministry of Education to raise awareness about water scarcity and how to protect water sources by distributing posters, stickers and leaflets to all government schools in Gaza.
“We have two problems with water – firstly a lack of water in Gaza and secondly water pollution,” said Islam. “I let a very little amount of water come out when I turn on the tap and I try not to waste water by not spilling it on the floor. I tell my friends not to use too much water.
“We have to save as much water as we can,” he added. “I always warn the girls who leave the tap running to turn it off, and when they don’t listen to me I go and do it myself.”

UNICEF is also providing safe water to all 343 schools in Gaza, as well as more than 30 health clinics, and this month it will start rolling out its water and sanitation programme in the West Bank.