Battling a Water Crisis

21 August 2014
Battling a Water Crisis

With no solution in sight for an end to the current conflict, UNRWA is doing what it can to meet the needs of Palestinians in Gaza. Since 13 July, internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been sheltering in UNRWA schools. The Agency continues to prioritize the health and safety of the displaced, including through the provision of water for drinking, cleaning, washing and hygiene purposes.

The Gaza Strip relies on water supply from the underlying aquifer which has been over pumped for decades. By 2020 at the latest, Gaza will be effectively without water. Most of Gaza's households have little or no water supply, and if available, the water is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Providing sufficient water to the displaced in UNRWA schools and to other displaced in government facilities is a daily challenge for the Agency, requiring close coordination between UNRWA, private suppliers, municipalities and partners.

Water is trucked to shelters at least twice a day. The drinking water tanks UNRWA provided across its shelters are managed by area water focal points, and water quality focal points (WQFPs). Each WQFP is responsible for an average of five shelters. When the trucks arrive at UNRWA schools, the WQFP checks the chlorine levels of potable water before filling the drinking tanks. Over the course of 18 August, and in cooperation with partners and donors, 708.6 cubic meters of potable water were trucked to the shelters. This brings the potable water supply to approximately 2.8 litres per person per day, excluding bottled water delivered to the shelters in areas where the capacity of water suppliers is insufficient. Yesterday, UNRWA also distributed more than 200 pallets of mineral water to all designated emergency shelters in the Gaza Strip. In addition to drinking water, 829 cubic meters of non-potable water were trucked by UNRWA, municipalities and contractors to shelters which have no access to other water sources. IDPs use this water for washing, cleaning and hygiene purposes, helping to maintain the health of their families and their surroundings.

Mr. Khaled Al Arqan, an UNRWA teacher, is in charge of the shelter at Rimal Preparatory Girls School in Gaza, which hosts 2,440 IDPs from the Shajaiya area, in Eastern Gaza. “We do our best to provide safe water, which is crucial for having a clean and healthy environment in our shelters,” he said. In the framework of UNRWA’s hygiene and water campaign, all UNRWA shelters have now formed IDP hygiene and water committees, facilitated by university students and graduates hired by UNRWA under the Job Creation Programme.

Ms Rahma Abu Harbid, an UNRWA personnel, is in charge of hygiene committees in four shelters. “The hygiene conditions of IDPs have improved since the forming of the hygiene committees, and the activities include cleaning all facilities such as classrooms, toilets, and yards,” she said.

The hygiene and water committees regularly hold awareness sessions to help people understand and develop good hygiene practices to prevent disease and promote positive attitudes towards good health and responsible water consumption.

Nineteen year old Manar Abu Ajour is taking refuge in an UNRWA school after fleeing from Shajaiya. She has seen an improvement in the cleanliness of the shelter since the formation of the committee. “We are taught to rationalize water consumption as water is crucial for our personal hygiene. We use the available water for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing clothes and washing classrooms, and we are pleased with the hygiene standards at our shelter as we believe in our culture that cleanliness is next to godliness,” Ms Abu Ajour said.

Gaza Emergency 1
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