Water, good hygiene improves lives for Gaza’s most vulnerable
Gaza, 5 September 2014 - Najlaa Abdel Al, 38, used to struggle to get water to bathe her seven young children and quench their thirst. The metal shack that the family calls home had no clean running water, no bathroom and was plagued with pests and filth.
But conditions vastly improved for the Abdel Al family, she says, after a project implemented with Spanish Government funding through UNICEF’s partners corrected basic hygiene and health conditions for hundreds of Gaza’s most vulnerable families.
“UNICEF installed this new bathroom, with a roof tank to store water and a sink in my kitchen,” she explains with relief.
“Before, I used to go with my children to fetch water from distant filling points. Now I have water at the tip of my finger,” she says. “We had dug a hole in the ground and surrounded it with metal sheeting,” for a bathroom. “It was unhealthy and attracted a lot of flies and mosquitos. I could not keep my children clean.”
Nearly 79,000 people, including the Abdel Al family, live in an outlying area of the Gaza Strip where the constant danger and lack of access to water and sanitation infrastructure makes them vulnerable to displacement and poor health.
THREAT OF DISPLACEMENT
Throughout the past years, Israel has tightened restrictions on Palestinian access to the sea and to land located near the fence with Israel, citing security concerns.
Up to 35 per cent of Gaza’s agricultural land and as much as 85% of its fishing waters have been affected by the creation of the access-restricted areas.
‘Our aim is to provide most vulnerable families with safe water for drinking and domestic use, and equip them with safe sanitation facilities,’ says Bilas Dongol, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programme at UNICEF. ‘With Action Against Hunger, we were also able to increase the awareness of more than 450 families on improved hygiene practices and behaviours,’ adds Dongol.
UNICEF is working to support the residents who live in this area, most of whom are very poor, by providing 350 families with roof storage tanks and potable storage tanks, 120 families with safe sanitation facilities and support to awareness raising initiatives.
The previous crisis has been compounded by the recent 50 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the most extensive structural damage to the area since Israel occupied it in 1967. Some of that damage has been to donor-funded infrastructure and projects, especially projects that rebuilt Gaza after the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead.
Poverty is rife in the Gaza Strip, with 66 per cent of the population receiving food aid before the current crisis and unemployment at 45 per cent. Private resources to reconstruct lost or damaged homes are rare.
The Abu Taleb family also benefitted from the UNICEF project to improve water and sanitation families in the access-restricted areas.
But “just a day after the new bathroom was handed over to us,” says mother Faten, 24, “the war started. On that same day, our house - along with the new bathroom - was destroyed by a missile that landed a few meters from our house.”
“The impact of the explosion caused our metal house to collapse on our heads,” she recalls. Luckily the family’s four children, ages four to eleven, had gone to the grocery store nearby and were unhurt. Faten and her husband, Tamer, 31, were trapped under the rubble for nearly a half an hour until rescue teams were able to get them out.
The family not only lost all of its personal things but the toothbrushes, shampoo and soap that had been provided by UNICEF were also buried or destroyed. The family then fled to a public shelter, where they remain, counted among the 108,000 people who were made homeless in the weeks of bombardment.
“I only brushed my teeth once,” says 11-year-old Raghad, of the hygiene tools the family was taught to use by fieldworkers. “The next day, our house was destroyed with all our belongings.”Father Tamer doesn’t know where to turn to restore the most basic needs to his family. “I am unemployed, and cannot afford to rebuild my house. Our roof tanks were also destroyed by airstrikes and now I don’t have any means to store water needed to keep my children clean.”