UNICEF, supported with funds from EU Humanitarian Aid and partnering with the Ministry of Health, financed the difficult task of changing the hospital’s old, narrow pipes with new ones and installing water pumps.
The project took seven months and required careful management as the hospital continued to serve patients. Nevertheless, the results were quickly apparent.
“After the recent intervention [was completed], I started to notice its impact on infant health, and on our work environment as doctors,” said Bolbol.
CLEAN WATER CRISIS
The United Nations has warned that the Gaza Strip may soon become uninhabitable due to the lack of clean, potable water. Ninety-six per cent of underground water resources in Gaza are undrinkable, according to World Health Organization standards. This is due to the over-extraction of groundwater, which allows the intrusion of seawater and contaminants. Sewage and chemicals from farming also pollute the water.
Most of Gaza’s 1.9 million people – nearly half of them below the poverty line – purchase costly bottled water or water from small-scale desalinization plants. These vendors do not always guarantee removal of contaminants, placing those who drink the water at risk of waterborne disease.
Repeated conflict has destroyed and damaged water networks, and the blockade prevents the proper response to the water and sanitation crisis, such as upgrading public infrastructure. Cement and other materials needed for infrastructure development are generally prevented from entering Gaza, with aid organizations required to apply for special import approvals.
Shifa hospital relies on its own groundwater well and desalinization plant, but staff were still unable to use the water from its taps due to poorly maintained public water infrastructure and rusting, aging pipes within the hospital. The 250-bed hospital dates to the early 1900s when the British controlled the Gaza Strip.
“It was a challenge to remove the old metal pipelines that had been rusted by chemical reactions with chlorine in the water, and then to replace them with more resistant materials that won't rust,” said Sady Ali, the project engineer. “Inside a busy hospital, working 24/7, with hundreds of patients and doctors, we were under immense pressure.”