GAZA CITY, 7 April 2009 (IRIN) – Over 150,000 Palestinians in Gaza (around 10 percent of the population) are struggling without tap water as a result of the damage caused to wells, pipes and waste water facilities during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January.
‘Our requests via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the Israeli military during the conflict to allow shipments of construction materials and spare parts to repair wells and facilities damaged during the war were denied,’ Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) director-general Monther Shoblak told IRIN.
Shoblak estimates that 50,000 people lack tap water after losing their homes, while a further 100,000 have dry taps because of damage to the water supply network.
Eleven of Gaza’s 150 wells, the only source of drinking water for Gaza’s 1.4 million people (apart from expensive bottled water and water trucked in by aid agencies), are not functioning. Six were completely destroyed, according to CMWU.
Many residents in the north and in Rafah have water from their taps only every 4-7 days. CMWU is working to rectify the situation, Shoblak said, but is hampered by lack of supplies.
“Since the end of the war the CMWU has received three out of 80 trucks waiting to enter Gaza containing pipes and spare parts,” he said, adding that Israel is obliging the utility company to provide proof – in the form of photographs of repair work – that the items received are being used for their designated purpose.
“The three trucks received by the CMWU contained only half a kilometre of piping,” he said.
Taxi driver Mohamed Abu Ragheleh, 23, has tap water in his home in Jabalia only three or four days a week. “We have electricity only eight hours per day so it is difficult to pump the water from the roof-top tanks to our homes… We have trouble bathing, washing our clothes, and cooking.”
Sewage floating off the coast, west of Gaza City
“There was severe damage to waste water treatment plants in Beit Hanoun and in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City, affecting water quality,” said Shoblak. “After the plant in Gaza City was bombed it discharged raw sewage for 20 days, contaminating groundwater.”
Shoblak has asked UN agencies to survey homes and hospitals to identify which areas have contaminated water.
International aid institutions like Oxfam, Action contre la Faim (ACF) and CARE continue to deliver containers of drinking water to residents in affected areas, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has donated US$50,000 to CMWU to begin quick repairs to the water network; ACF has paid $50,000 to local contractors to repair pipes and other infrastructure; and German government-owned development bank KFW had committed $60,000 for immediate repairs, said CMWU.
CMWU’s mid-term recovery plan is to re-establish the destroyed water network. CMWU has a commitment of $2.5 million from what is collectively known as the water and sanitation cluster, including UN agencies like UNICEF and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and international aid institutions like Oxfam, ICRC, Islamic Relief, and the Qatari Red Crescent.
CMWU’s long-term recovery plan – requiring $3.5 million and falling under the larger UN Gaza flash appeal for US$613 million – covers repairs in areas that have been evacuated and will be coordinated with the re-building of homes.
However, major repairs cannot take place without the opening of border crossings to allow in spare parts and building materials. The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has confirmed it does not intend to revise its policy of prohibiting reconstruction materials from entering Gaza, according to OCHA.