Gaza’s water woes likely to get worse

January 24th, 2009 - 9:49 am ICT by IANS  

Gaza City, Jan 24 (DPA) Five small children, aged 3 to 7, gathered outside a small kiosk in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, carrying dirty yellow and red plastic jugs to fill up water from a metal tank.As night fell, Ghassan, the shop owner, sat in darkness, since the enclave still suffers from regular power cuts. A picture of dead Hamas leaders, killed over the years by Israel, hung behind him.

“I do this for humanitarian reasons, for the people,” the man said, offering guests a cup of water.

“If people can’t afford it, I give it to them for free. If they can pay, I only charge cost,” Ghassan explained, adding that he hoped the electricity would turn back on, so the stock of cheeses and soft drinks in his small fridge would stay cold.

Many shops across Gaza have the small metal tanks in front, where people gather to collect their water.

“Every day I go and collect water to drink. Maybe 20 litres every two days for my family,” said Ramzi, a taxi driver in Gaza City.

“The water in Gaza is so dirty we can’t drink it, not even to cook. Any water that goes into our bodies, we buy it from somewhere,” he added.

For many Gazans buying a filter is too expensive a purchase and they cannot afford to sanitise water in their homes.

Often, even the dirty water does not come through, because power outages affect the functioning of pumping stations and damage to pipelines, caused during Israel’s last offensive in the Strip, have hampered delivery.

“One day we have water, the next we won’t,” said Ramzi.

The Israeli incursion also caused damage to storage tanks, particularly in rural areas, meaning people cannot store water when it does flow.

Besides the damage to pipes, a sewage treatment centre was also hit by an Israeli airstrike, causing filthy water to spill out into the open fields nearby, instead of being partially treated and sent to the sea.

“We used to say it’s a shame the water is going to the sea, instead of being treated and used for agriculture,” explained Monther Shoblak, the head of Gaza’s water utilities.

“Now, we pray for it to go to the sea again,” Shoblak said, raising his hands towards the heavens.

The leakage would further damage Gaza’s aquifer, the source of the territory’s dirty water, which was polluted by a vicious cycle of sewage getting mixed into the water and a host of other problems.

Until Israel allows in needed imports, including spare parts and cement, the sewage pipe cannot be fixed and more will flow into the water supply.

The blockade on the territory, in place since Hamas came to power, has affected the water utilities work for over two years.

Since the pipe was hit in the early days of Israel’s airstrikes late last month, nearly 500,000 cubic meters of sewage has flowed into the ground, leaving a pungent and powerful stench in the entire area around it, while destroying small farms growing vegetables, mostly for local consumption.

“It’s just disgusting,” said Shoblak, worrying about what Gazans might be drinking down the line.

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