Gazans struggle for access to clean water

21-03-2011 News FootageRef. V-F-CR-F-01086-A

Every day, thousands of litres of untreated wastewater are dumped into the Wadi Gaza River. The polluted water snakes through urban areas on its way to the sea, jeopardizing the health of the many families living on its banks, contaminating the coastline and endangering biodiversity.

  • Footage available from the ICRC Video Newsroom (, on Monday 21 March, 2 a.m. GMT, with news release and fact sheet. Easy to preview and to download.
  • TV news footage transmitted worldwide on Monday 21 March 2011 on Eurovision News Service (ENS) at 11.45 a.m. GMT

For more information, please contact Janet Powell, ICRC, Geneva, tel: + 41 79 251 93 14 or e-mail

See also:

News release: New technology eases water shortage, reduces health hazard

Every day, thousands of litres of untreated wastewater are dumped into the Wadi Gaza River. The polluted water snakes through urban areas on its way to the sea, jeopardizing the health of the many families living on its banks, contaminating the coastline and endangering biodiversity. Sixteen sewage outfalls in the Gaza Strip lead directly to the sea.

Public health and the environment will continue to be at risk until the long-term development of the sanitation sector is ensured and the polluted water cleaned up.

The failure, or poor maintenance, of wastewater networks increases the risk of waterborne diseases; and the consequences for large population centres in the Gaza Strip – such as Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Younis – are likely to be serious. Dr Jamal El Tayeb, of the Al-Nasser Paediatric Hospital, explains: "Wastewater has a severe impact on the health of children. If they live and play near dirty water they are in danger and they are also exposed to amoebae and giardia, which are the two most common parasites living in polluted water."

Governments and pertinent authorities should ensure that people in conflict zones have access to safe and clean water, to decent sanitation, and to adequate environmental health conditions  – which is contingent on the continued functioning of water distribution networks, drains, sewage works and other infrastructure.

Local efforts to provide people with even the most basic services are hampered by restrictions on the import of construction materials. These restrictions, imposed by the Israeli authorities at the beginning of the closure in June 2007, were eased last year. However, spare parts and materials essential for construction and maintenance are still scarce in the Gaza Strip.

ICRC engineers working on a project to rehabilitate the Rafah wastewater treatment plant had to improvise solutions to a number of problems. The closure had created a shortage of cement, which was overcome by using concrete segments of the old Rafah border wall that lay abandoned after its partial demolition in January 2008. Today, the Rafah project serves 180,000 people, inhabitants of the city and its surroundings. It was completed with the assistance of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and the municipality of Rafah. The plant treats wastewater before it reaches the sea.

Marco Albertini, the ICRC engineer in charge of the project, says: "It's a great challenge to carry out construction projects in the Strip, as building materials cannot be imported. The water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza is in dire need of a comprehensive upgrade. To provide 1.5 million inhabitants with adequate facilities it is absolutely essential that materials such as cement, steel and water pipes are allowed in.”

Gaza faces a serious shortage of fresh water, but wastewater-treatment technology makes it possible to use treated water for agricultural purposes such as the irrigation of specific crops and trees. Treated water could also be used to replenish Gaza's aquifer.

The quality of water is deteriorating rapidly. Much of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable, with nitrate and chloride levels up to seven times above the level set by the World Health Organization.

Video story

Salim Salameh Abu Otewi lives beside the Wadi Gaza River. He is 45 years old and has five children; all of them suffer the consequences of living so close to a polluted stream. Spring is round the corner and Salim dreads its coming. the foul smell of the dirty water during warm weather is bad enough; but it is the invasion of insects that has become unendurable to him.

“I live 50 metres from the stream," says Salim. "My children are directly affected by the dirty water: they have fungus and parasites, they scratch themselves all the time because of the mosquitoes and flies; and they have other diseases as well. We are tired of living so close to the river, but unfortunately we do not have a better option."

Unsanitary living conditions are another source of concern in the Gaza Strip. Homes in many of Gaza's poor neighbourhoods are not connected to the sewage network at all. Take the case of Ektimal Abu Ouda who lives in the “Swedish Village,” a small community near Rafah City in southern Gaza, where a hundred families live in harsh conditions. None of them is connected to a sewage collection system; and they have to buy drinking water because their tap water is too salty.

Ektimal is 37 years old. She was married when she was only 16. She has been living with her husband and her seven children in the same house for over 20 years. Her husband Abu Foad is unemployed. Whenever he finds a temporary job as a fisherman, he earns only 20 shekels a day. They have to make do with very little every month. "I try to keep the house as clean as I can," says Ektimal. "But as we are not connected to the wastewater network, the water I use to clean the house or wash the clothes goes directly to the street. There are flies in and out of our home 24 hours a day. The water from the latrine goes to a hole beside our house where sewage is discharged. My husband has to empty the sewage from the latrine every two months.”

Water supply in Gaza

  • The only freshwater source is the Coastal Aquifer (over-exploited due to high population density and growth)
  • Quality of underground water resources affected by three main factors: infiltration of untreated wastewater, extensive use of chemical fertilizers and intrusion of seawater into the coastal aquifer
  • 97% of the population in Gaza receive water from distribution networks but unauthorised connections and leakages affect 40% of the distribution
  • The quality of the water varies, often having a high content of chlorides and nitrates
  • Wastewater management in Gaza
  • More than 100,000 cubic metres of wastewater are discharged in Gaza every day
  • Investment in this sector has been largely neglected
  • 67 percent of households on average are connected to a wastewater system
  • The development of this sector is affected by limits on the import of necessary electro-mechanical equipment and spare parts
  • Wastewater treatment plants lack the advanced technology used worldwide
  • Effective treatment of wastewater allows it to be reused for agricultural purposes, thus reducing the quantity of water that has to be drawn from the aquifer
  • Additional treatment of the effluent can improve the quality of water to the point where it may be used to replenish the aquifer.


00:00:00:00 Foaming wastewater in the Wadi Gaza River

00:00:02:13 Wider shot of the stream with foaming wastewater

00:00:05:09 Wastewater issuing from a sewage pipe

00:00:08:06 Wastewater issuing from a sewage pipe (from a different angle)

00:00:10:22 Foaming sewage (close shot)

00:00:13:16 The Wadi Gaza River

00:00:17:19 CS of water flowing through a street

00:00:21:09 A concrete pipe in the Wadi Gaza River

00:00:24:18 Three children playing beside the river

00:00:27:07 Medium shot of one child

00:00:29:21 A child dangling its feet in the Wadi Gaza River

00:00:33:07 Salim Salameh Abu Otewi; children at play

00:00:35:10 Close-up of one child

00:00:38:04 Close-up of Salim Salameh Abu Otewi

00:00:45:00 Salim Salameh Abu Otewi walking towards his house (2 shots)

00:00:54:03 Salim Salameh Abu Otewi nearing his well; close shot of him checking the water meter (5 shots)

00:01:19:08 Sound bite (Arabic): "We have a well but it is polluted. A lot of effort went into building it, but then we discovered that the water in it was polluted. We don't drink the water; we don’t even wash our clothes with it because they would smell horrible. This dirty sewage water affects not only this well; it affects the lives of all those who live in the area."

00:01:38:16 Young man and woman sitting on a bank of  the Wadi Gaza River
00:01:41:23 Polluted water from the Wadi Gaza River being pumped into the sea

00:01:50:16 General view of the seashore and the "Swedish Village" in southern Gaza

00:02:00:09 Children walking on a street in the "Swedish Village"

00:02:04:05 Palestinian woman staring at the camera and then entering her

00:02:07:18 Children walking on a street in the "Swedish Village"

00:02:10:13 Ektimal Abu Ouda walking inside her house to collect clothes

00:02:21:15 Water truck with its siren on

00:02:27:14 Ektimal Abu Ouda buying water (5 shots)
00:02:49:23 Child is carrying the water with a small toy truck

00:02:53:13 Ektimal pouring water into a jar

00:02:57:07 A child standing in the street, beside a puddle of wastewater

00:03:00:01 A broken pipe in a street (2 shots).

00:03:08:24 Children walking past Ektimal's house on
                       their way to school; Ektimal's husband is standing outside.

00:03:12:13 Wastewater issuing from a broken pipe (2 shots)

00:03:14:17 Ektimal washing dishes (3 shots)

00:03:20:23 Dirty water in a street hole (2 shots)

00:03:22:19 Children playing in the street, dirty water streaming past   
                       them (2 shots)

00:03:34:03 Sound bite (Arabic) - Ektimal Abu Ouda: "Each gallon of water costs us one shekel. I buy one gallon every day, sometimes, a gallon and a half. I try not to use more than one gallon so that I don’t spend more than a shekel a day. I cannot use the water we buy for drinking and cooking at the same time.”

00:03:48:20 Sound bite (Arabic) - Ektimal: "My children and the children of my neighbours suffer from giardiasis, amoebiasis, scabies and other skin diseases."

00:03:57:16 Sound bite (Arabic) - Ektimal: "Oh God, we hope the day will come when we will have a shower and not have to think where the water is going, to this place or that? We need a radical solution to tackle this problem. When will relief finally come?"

00:04:11:15 Abu Foad (Ektimal's husband) and his son removing human waste from
                      one hole and taking it to another (5 shots)

00:04:34:12 Sound bite (Arabic) - Abu Foad: "I have been living in this village for 40 years, and we have had the sewage problem for the past 21. As you can see, this is the sewage from the latrine. When the main well is full, I dig a new hole near the well and empty the sewage into it."

00:04:55:03 Sound bite (Arabic) - Abu Foad: "Hiring a septic truck to clean the hole is expensive: 100/150 shekels and no one can afford it. There are other priorities, such as feeding my children and providing them with clean water."

00:05:08:04 Entrance of Al Nasser Paediatric Hospital

00:05:11:24 Dr Jamel El Tayeb walking down a corridor
                       before entering a ward

00:05:20:10 Doctor auscultating children

00:05:36:20 Sound bite  (Arabic) - Dr Jamel El Tayeb: "Children living in this kind of environment usually suffer from acute gastroenteritis. Their health is endangered in other ways as well: they catch skin diseases and respiratory diseases because of all the flies; and they are vulnerable to viruses and many types of bacteria that cause hepatitis A, which is prevalent throughout the country, particularly in places where sewage is exposed."
00:06:14:23 Sound bite (Arabic) - Dr Jamel El Tayeb: "The diseases caused by wastewater tend to be chronic. Children can get sick every two or three weeks. And prolonged treatment causes side effects like diarrhoea, vomiting, skin rash or kidney failure, depending on the kind of medication. Repeated treatment can cause kidney failure in children whose kidneys are not yet fully developed."

00:06:53:17 Wide overhead shot of city

00:06:58:23 Crowded streets (4 shots)

00:07:21:08 A vegetable seller

00:07:27:01 Shot of a wall near the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing point

00:07:38:06 Medium shot of fence and closed door near the Karni crossing point

00:07:47:09 ICRC vehicle driving past a sewage basin

00:07:51:13 ICRC engineer Marco Albertini getting out of a car

00:07:54:17 Marco Albertini opening a fuse box and making notes (3 shots)

00:08:09:04 Shot of sewage plant in Rafah

00:08:17:24 Marco Albertini and other workers on the roof of a tank at the plant

00:08:24:12 Man working on the roof of the tank

00:08:27:16 Water gushing from a pipe

00:08:31:12 Marco Albertini inspecting an installation

00:08:37:09 Sound bite - Marco Albertini, ICRC engineer: "In 2008, when the wall separating Gaza and Egypt was demolished, our engineers came up with the idea of reusing the fragments of the demolished wall for building the essential infrastructure of the plant; so they cope with the lack of cement by reusing the fragments of the wall for constructing the main points and all the main infrastructure of the treatment plant."

00:08:53:20 Workers removing pieces of concrete from a wall on the border with Egypt (3 shots) (2008, ICRC archives)

00:09:15:23 Workers inside the sewage plant setting a piece of the wall down (2008, ICRC archives)

00:09:26:17 Shot of the lake in the wastewater treatment plant and workers (2008, ICRC archives)

00:09:30:17 Field

00:09:35:21 Close shot of soil

00:09:38:19 Field

00:09:42:00 Close shot on hand opening one of the water lines

00:09:44:04 Water pouring out of a plastic pipe on the ground (2 shots)

00:09:49:12 Workers on their knees

00:09:52:14 Workers loading a truck with vegetables

00:09:55:06    END

For more information, please contact:
Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: + 41 79 251 93 18
Umar Phiri, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 599 60 30 15
Cecilia Goin, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 50
Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 48

  • Copyright: ICRC Access All
  • Release year: March 2011
  • Production locations: Gaza Strip
  • Running time: 09:55
  • Languages available: (Sound) English, Arabic
  • Reference: V-F-CR-F-01086-A

Format: 16:9 anamorphic