Gaza people in nightmare for water scarcity

09:55, March 23, 2010      

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by Ahmad Aldabba

Salem Obeid, a 47-year-old unemployed Gazan, has to pay 30 U.S. dollars per month to buy clean drinking water from private companies, after local and international experts proved that 90 percent of Gaza's tap water is undrinkable.

"I don't make a penny, and I pay 50 Israeli new shekels (about 13 dollars) for 1,000 liters of water. I have to do anything to get clean water for my kids," said Obeid, a father of five children.

He said he sells some of the rations he gets from a UN relief agency every month to buy drinking water from private desalination plants that have spread across the coastal Gaza Strip recently.

Last year, the Palestinian Ministry of Health urged the public in Gaza to boil water before they drink it or use it for cooking, as tests proved that the Gaza tap water contains many salts and chemical materials.

"We don't drink from tap water because it's salty and not clean at all," Obeid said, adding that in fact they only used the tap water for cleaning and washing even before the government told them.

"We should have a free access to clean water. It's a human right, but we don't even have regular access to tap water that we rarely use. Who is to blame for this catastrophe?" Obeid wondered.

POOR QUALITY

"Gaza piped water quality is very poor, this is why residents mainly rely on buying water from private small-scale desalination plants," said Munzer Shublak, head of Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), the body responsible for water and sanitation services in Gaza.

"The prices of drinking from these plants are very high but people have to get clean water for their usage," said Shublak, whose organization has been badly damaged during the 2008-2009 large-scale Israeli military offensives.

In Gaza, where 1.5 million people live, Shublak estimated that there are more than 40 private water purification plants in addition to at least 20,000 home purification filters. But he is concerned about the quality of the water these plants produce as they are not regulated.

"Access to water is one of the most difficult issues faced by Palestinians," he said. "We do our best to provide every single Palestinian in Gaza with potable running water directly to their houses. We have done that in Al Burej refugee camp of Gaza where 22,000 refugees enjoy free access to safe drinking water."

Shublak said the main problem with the quality of water in Gaza is the high concentrations of salts and nitrates which are difficult and costly to reduce, taken in consideration that the siege imposed on Gaza prevents his organization from getting the materials and equipment needed for the desalination process.

"Nitrate levels in the water are on the rise and now they are at the level of health risk," he said, adding "the high quantities of nitrates may have major health effects, principally on infants. "

Shublak said many tests and studies must be conducted on the diseases caused by nitrate contamination, urging the siege to be lifted to start such studies before it is too late.

Israel imposed the blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2006 and tightened it after the Islamic Hamas movement, which called for Israel's annihilation, took full control of Gaza after defeating its rival Fatah party in fierce fighting in June 2007.



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