UNICEF helps Palestinians access drinking water at home
GAZA, occupied Palestinian territory, 3 July 2012 – For many of the 1.6 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, safe tap drinking water has become an unattainable luxury.
“Buying tankered water for drinking and cooking is expensive and costs us 60 shekels (15 USD) every month”, 30-year-old Amineh says, adding: “This is a lot of money, especially since I live not only with my husband and children, but also with my extended family, and every expense affects us all.”
Amineh and her family live in the poor Shujaiyyeh neighbourhood of Gaza City, where they have difficulties to make ends meet, even when it comes to accessing such basics as drinking water. The family’s income is extremely low as Amineh’s husband, who used to work on construction sites before the blockade began, is now mostly unemployed due to lack of work. The family largely depends on their relatives for help, some of whom are equally poor and eligible for humanitarian aid.
A few blocks down the street, Turuk shares the same concerns. She was left to fend for herself and her five small children after her husband died of illness three years ago, and spends the little money and aid she gets for her children’s education and welfare. Having a smaller family than Turuk, she pays only 30 shekels (7,5 USD) for drinking water every month but it’s difficult to make ends meet.
Gaza’s sole water source, the aquifer, has become more saline due to salt-water intrusion from the sea, and has been chemically polluted by dangerous levels of chlorides and nitrates. As a result, UN agencies estimate that 90 to 95% of its water is unfit for human consumption, putting children at risk of water-borne diseases and forcing households to purchase drinking water from unregulated private vendors, without quality control.
Because water is a right and not a luxury, UNICEF is helping vulnerable families access safe drinking water directly from the tap at home. With funds from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), 300 families living in Shujaiyyeh and Zeytoun, two of Gaza City’s poorest neighborhoods, have received water filters that help them produce their own safe, filtered water out of tap water.
The families attended a workshop to learn how to use and maintain the water filters. They will receive additional filters and spare parts, and they are entitled to four years of free maintenance.
Eman Aqeel, UNICEF’s water and sanitation officer in Gaza, explains that the water filter units were given to the most vulnerable families, with an emphasis on widowed mothers heading households on their own. “Some families were so poor that they didn’t even have a kitchen or water tanks, so we supplied them with tanks where they can now collect filtered water”, Aqeel says.
Turuk, who was one of the beneficiaries of this project, is grateful. “The filtered water that we now drink at home is better than the tankered water that we used to buy,” she says, adding: “Since we no longer have to pay for water, I can buy better food and more school supplies for my children”, she adds.
Amineh feels relieved as she now can access to clean, filtered water anytime and no longer worries for her children’s health. “This filtered water is not salty and tastes much better. We couldn’t have been given something more useful,” she says.