GAZA, State of Palestine, 5 April 2018 – In a 2012 report, the United Nations warned that the Gaza Strip would become unlivable by 2020 if no action was taken. One of the most acute issues which its two million residents – half of them children – are facing is that of access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene. Today up to 97 per cent of the water drawn from Gaza’s coastal aquifer is unfit for human consumption, and more than 100,000 m3 of raw and poorly treated sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea daily — the equivalent to the volume of 43 standard-sized Olympic pools. Around 40,000 available cesspits are not connected to sewage network services and an estimated 18,804 tons of solid waste is accumulated and dumped on daily basis without any treatment or recycling. This translates into very difficult, unhealthy conditions for families living in the Gaza Strip. Thanks to funding from the People and Government of Japan and support from UNICEF, Gruppo di Volontariato Civile (GVC) has helped answer the needs of the most vulnerable families in several communities, with a focus on female-headed households and in close cooperation with community-based and women’s organizations.
SALWA’S STORY Salwa, a mother of five who lost her husband in an accident, lives with her children in a very vulnerable community in Rafah. Her house was damaged during the 2014 hostilities, causing cracks in the walls which weaken the building and make it difficult to keep warm or dry in winter.Drinking water provided by the municipality only reaches their house three days a week. The family cannot afford to vacuum the house cesspit regularly, which has resulted in an invasion of mosquitoes and unhealthy living conditions, with several members of the family suffering from abdominal pain as a result. Her eldest son, Mohammed, has a mental disability which leaves him with limited autonomy. His mother looks after him in the hope that he will have a better future one day. Every three months, the family receives financial support from the Palestinian Ministry of Social Development (MoSD), but it is not enough to cover their basic needs, especially those of Mohammed. To help Salwa and her family, GVC equipped their house with a 1,500 litre water storage tank and a water pump, set up regular deliveries of tankered, safe drinking water to their home, and helped them vacuum the cesspit. Not only did the intervention help improve the conditions the family is living in, but it also helped alleviate the financial burden of having to pay for safe drinking water and sanitation. “Now we even manage to save money to buy medicine for my son Mohammed,” Salwa says.
ATWA’S STORY Salwa’s family is one of the more than 1,000 families who benefited from the intervention. Atwa, a part-time farmer who earns around NIS 20 per day (about five euro) — the only source of income for his family — also benefited from the project in Khan Younis. Atwa’s house, where he lives with 13 family members, is very small, which is why the hole to collect sewage water was built inside the house, near the bedrooms. Due to lack of funds, it is rarely vacuumed, creating health risks for his children. “There is no other place where we could install the sanitation hole”, Atwa says. “We cannot afford to pay to vacuum it regularly as it costs up to NIS 120 per month (about 30 euro).” The family also had difficulties accessing domestic water to stay clean, as the only existing water source was a neighbor’s private water well, whose water was not always available and cost them NIS 50 per month (about 13 euro). Atwa also had to spend about NIS 50 a month on hygiene kits, all high costs for such an impoverished household. To help Atwa and his children access better sanitation and an adequate supply of water, GVC vacuumed the cesspit and provided the family with hygiene kits, a 300 liters domestic water storage tank, a 1,500 litres domestic water storage tank, and deliveries of tankered safe drinking water twice a month. “I used to spend many hours cleaning and emptying the sanitation hole,” Atwa’s wife remembers. “It was very exhausting, and my entire body ached afterwards. During the project, I was relieved to no longer have to do it and to be able to spend more time with my family. The distribution of hygiene items was also very useful, as we can now save money and use it to buy baby diapers and milk for our children.”