Fourteen-year-old Yara lives in the Gaza Strip, where one of the basics of health – clean, drinkable water – is scarce. Ninety-seven per cent of underground water resources in Gaza are undrinkable by World Health Organization standards. For months, Yara needed a tooth extracted, but she found the Gaza City clinic offering urgent medical and dental care was frequently closed, unable to function without clean water. Finally, she has had her tooth removed. “I’m feeling good,” Yara says, despite her ordeal
Gaza’s clinics get clean water, fortifying them in case of crisis
The Zeitoun clinic in Gaza City sees about 13,000 people every month, one-third of them children and about 2,000 of them pregnant women
The Zeitoun clinic in Gaza City sees about 13,000 people every month, one-third of them children and about 2,000 of them pregnant women. In the past, these patients could not rely on the clinic staying open – most of Gaza’s piped water is saline, and can damage critical medical equipment. Clean water – often obtained in tanks from vendors – becomes even scarcer when conflict escalates. Without safe water, medical services become cut off when they are needed most
This year, a UNICEF project funded by EU humanitarian aid brought clean water to two clinics right on the edge of a dangerous access-restricted area. “We had been suffering from a severe shortage of clean water, which affected our readiness during emergencies,” says Saleem Silmi, the clinic’s managing director. “We were unable to provide the most basic services to the nearby population.” Now, in an emergency situation, the Zeitoun clinic can provide urgent health services to as many as 1,000 people a day — double the usual number of patients. Here a dentist performs urgent oral surgery on a young boy.
A clinic doctor washes her hands before examining a patient – she is now easily able to carry out a basic step to prevent the spread of disease. Due to the EU-funded UNICEF project, the staff here at Zeitoun Clinic in Gaza City can wash their hands and equipment in clean water, without having to purchase expensive treated water. “Clean water is necessary everywhere, particularly for health facilities,” a clinic nurse said.
These clinics are lifesaving in the Gaza Strip, where 1.8 million people are under a military blockade that restricts the entry and exit of people and goods, including medicine and medical equipment. Since the start of demonstrations in March 2018, tens of thousands of people have sought care for injury or trauma, adding to the burden of clinics such as these. Here Haya, 10 months old, has her blood drawn to check for childhood diseases and malnutrition to help ensure she grows up healthy and strong. Anaemia and vitamin deficiencies are significantly higher among children in Gaza than the West Bank.
A clinic staff member shows off the small desalinization unit that allows for the regular opening of his clinic and its needed family health programs. The €2.15 million project, primarily funded by European Union, includes the construction of a well and the installation of solar panels to fuel a new desalinization plant for the two clinics. It also paid for the refurbishing of clinic toilets. Aid agencies are working to improve living conditions in Gaza through such projects, although the blockade also limits their scope. UNICEF plans in 2019 to improve access to water for 320,000 people.
Now, even when Gaza City finds itself in an emergency situation, tanks of clean, potable water are available at the clinic, allowing it to open its doors and treat vulnerable women and children, wounded people, and those with chronic medical needs that just can’t wait. Thirteen cubic metres of water are stored for drinking and medical purposes.
Sami, age 4, has come to the clinic to get treatment for his eye, which hurts. Nearly half of the residents of the Gaza Strip – 48% – are children under the age of 18. In 2018, the unemployment rate in Gaza was 52%, with many families relying on international agencies for critical food aid.
Four-year-old Sami enjoys a cup of water before he leaves the clinic. Only 10% of Gaza Strip households have direct access to safe drinking water, compared to 60% ten years ago. Conflict, the blockade, lack of electricity to fuel pumps, and lagging development have led to the deterioration of water infrastructure. “No one can live without clean water. It doesn’t make sense that our health facilities would not have those essentials,” said another father.