WASH: water, sanitation and hygiene
Providing clean water to children in the State of Palestine
Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities is a basic human right, but just one in ten people have direct access to safe water in the Gaza Strip. Some 1.8 million people require some form of humanitarian Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) assistance, of which children comprise some 52 per cent.
The destruction of WASH infrastructure, weak resource management, and rapid population growth contribute to the increasingly dire shortages of safe drinking water and access to sanitation. With the Palestinian population spread over fractured geographical locations and predicted to double to 9.8 million by 2050, investment in infrastructure is not only necessary but also critical to maintain the health of Palestinian children.
As 96 per cent of water from the Gaza’s sole aquifer is unfit for human consumption the preferred strategic solution to provide its citizens with safe, clean water is the desalination of seawater. However, maintaining the equipment used for the desalination process is a big concern, as the WASH sector faces challenges with delays in the delivery of essential materials for repair work and the rehabilitation of water networks, notably as the result of Gaza’s blockade.
Access to safe water is also dependent on consistent and reliable availability of electricity. However, the chronic energy crisis in Gaza results in just a few hours of electricity each day. This crisis affects all aspects of life, including cooking, bathing and laundry, critical needs such as daily drinking water and the safe disposal of wastewater, a halt to some health services. For this reason, the WASH sector is investing in renewable energy to operate essential WASH facilities.
Adequate access to safe WASH facilities and practices are prerequisites for health facilities to function properly and for healthy and safe schools. Unsanitary and inadequate facilities for adolescent girls in particular may discourage them from attending school. The overall status of WASH facilities in schools does not meet international guidelines, with a less than adequate ratio of toilets to students. Bottle-feeding using water that may not be clean, instead of exclusive breastfeeding, increases the risk of contamination and infants contracting infections and waterborne diseases.
Sanitation infrastructure and facilities to dispose and treat sewage and wastewater are insufficient to meet people’s needs, causing the contamination of groundwater and increasingly posing public health threats. Increased awareness of methods to adopt household water treatment and safe storage techniques is required to ensure the most efficient use of the limited water resources and improve hygiene.
UNICEF leads the WASH Cluster in close cooperation with the Palestinian Water Authority and supports the national capacity to deliver safe water and sanitation services, while strengthening the national ability to respond to emergencies. In partnership with government and non-government organizations, UNICEF works to ensure households, schools, health facilities and early childhood CD centers, especially those in vulnerable areas, are provided with improved access to safe WASH infrastructure and services.
In an effort to maintain uninterrupted access to safe water, UNICEF supports the rehabilitation and construction of WASH infrastructure and the delivery of essential WASH services at community, household and institutional level.
To improve access to safe water, the EU funded the Gaza Strip’s largest seawater desalination plant to date, along with the Gaza Strip’s largest solar field, which will ultimately provide safe water to 250,000 people. This desalination plant and solar field were built by UNICEF. UNICEF continues to work on innovative solutions to make the supply of safe water more sustainable and cost effective, including installing a new desalination prototype in Gaza through a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that operates through solar power, is much less energy intensive than conventional technologies, and transforms some 90 per cent of the water it extracts from the aquifer into drinking water.