Families in the Gaza Strip Celebrate
Clean, Flood-Free Streets
For decades, winter rains in the al-Wafia neighbourhood of Khan Younis brought thigh-high flooding. With nowhere else to go, the rainwater pushed into narrow alleys and homes, bringing with it filth and disease.
But in September, families from the neighbourhood gathered to paint those same streets, celebrating the completion of a $3.3 million project funded by the Kuwait Fund that finally ended the seasonal flooding and provided clean, reliable pumped water to their homes.
Five-year-old Siwar was one of the children painting cheerful murals promoting handwashing and good hygiene on a retaining wall. Despite her young age, she still had vivid memories of the flooding. “When it was winter, I could not go to kindergarten because the water was coming into our house.” UNICEF’s road works helped people in Deir Balah and Khan Younis, including Siwar and her family, escape the annual fear and destruction that came with the annual rainy season.
UNICEF, with support from Kuwait, also installed six different solar-powered water and wastewater facilities in Gaza neighbourhoods. Solar power reduces reliance on Gaza’s sole gas-powered electricity plant, which is often forced to cut electricity production due to lack of fuel. Use of the plants also lessens wastewater dumping into the sea, which pollutes the water and hurts local ecosystems. Here boys in al-Wafia paint a wall bright blue in celebration of the project’s completion.
“There used to be a large pool of water in the street,” remembers eight-year-old Maryam al-Majayda, “and we faced difficulties crossing it. I could not leave the house because of the water in front of our home.” Majayda was painting the steps in her neighbourhood a bright sea green. “After the streets in the neighbourhood were repaired, the whole area has become beautiful. We are not afraid of winter anymore,” she explains.
Children from the neighbourhood helped to create cheerful murals with positive messages about cleanliness and hygiene. These community messages promoting clean public spaces and personal hygiene are another part of UNICEF’s initiative improving access to clean water and preventing the spread of waterborne disease. Diarrhoea, which can be life-threatening, is one of the main reasons that children visit primary healthcare centres in the Gaza Strip. Reducing illness requires access to clean water and ending flooding—but also better hygiene at home.
A better life, without the risk of flooding
Osama Ikhras’ mother is in a wheelchair. She lives with him and his family down a narrow alleyway that used to fill with water during the rainy season. “We had to help each other to escape our houses to safer areas,” he says. Damage on the stone and stucco indicates where flooding rushed into these homes—but the four kilometres of underground wastewater pipes that UNICEF and its partners installed in two different neighbourhoods will prevent further destruction.
Osama holds up a video on his phone showing how deep the water used to get in the alley outside his home. For his mother, in a wheelchair, the water was nearly impassable. “I was having a hard time getting my disabled mother out. The Civil Defence authorities could not reach us,” he recalls. The flooding ruined furnishings, and carried with it disease, mould, and insects. It prevented children from going to school, and adults from attending work or health appointments.
UNICEF and its partners installed large pipes underground in Khan Younis and Deir al-Balah to help divert rainwaters away from residential areas, including Osama’s home. The construction, completed in December 2021, transformed the lives of 80,000 people in the affected neighbourhoods. No longer will they dread winter rains and flooding.
In addition, this solar-powered water pumping station constructed in Khan Younis provides a reliable source of electricity, ensuring that residents have clean water pumped into their homes even at peak times. People in the Gaza Strip have endured years of power outages for as long as 16 hours a day. Repeated escalations of the conflict that resulted in infrastructure damage, in conjunction with a closure that restrict certain equipment from entering the Gaza Strip have worsened access to water, which requires a stable source of electricity to be pumped regularly into homes. These new solar panels also return electricity to the grid, providing power for all of Gaza’s residents.
Osama’s children go to school, wearing their uniforms and carrying their backpacks. Their little brother trails behind. They have clean water at home and their way is no longer impeded by pools of impassable water—instead they see the bright colours and happy murals that they and their friends painted in the neighbourhood.