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Gaza: people still struggling for clean water

03-02-2009 Operational Update

Getting clean and safe water to all families in Gaza is an ongoing challenge. As people start to rebuild their lives, emergency repairs of vital infrastructure are needed in order to restore services wherever possible.

In the Gaza Strip, access to water supplies varies greatly from one area to another. Mains have been fixed virtually everywhere in the Strip, but some secondary pipelines are still in need of repair. In the northern part of the coastal enclave, where three wells were destroyed during the fighting, there is less water than usual in the network. In some of the worst-hit areas north and east of Gaza City, such as Jabaliya, Beit Hanun and Beit Lahiya, some parts of the network have been completely destroyed.

" When we go to those areas, the first thing people ask for is water and electricity. That's what you have to have to lead anything like a normal life, " said Marek Komarzynski, an ICRC water engineer.


Water supplies restored for thousands of people

Over the past week, the ICRC coordinated safe passage with the Israeli authorities for local technicians sent to repair water pipes near Khan Yunis – close to the buffer zone with Israel and the fence, hence the need to arrange for safe passage – that had been severely damaged in the hostilities. The pipes were fixed, and a 1,400-pupil school and 500 houses were then reconnected to the network.

Nevertheless, according to the Gaza water authority some 300,000 people still have no tap water.

Some people buy their water from water trucks that come to fill tanks on rooftops. Others buy smaller quantities from small businesses making the rounds of damaged neighbourhoods to sell water from donkey carts.

" To carry out emergency repair s and maintenance of the water supply system, we need pipes and spare parts, " said Mr Komarzynski. " We are waiting for approval from the Israeli authorities to bring in these materials. " Because of the closure imposed by the Israeli authorities, materials needed for the proper maintenance and development of the water supply infrastructure have been greatly restricted for over 18 months.


Helping hospitals make sure their water is safe

Hospitals were already struggling with their water supply even before the latest outbreak of hostilities on 27 December.

" If hospitals do not have purified water, that can jeopardize the treatment of patients, " said Mr Komarzynski. " A clean and reliable water supply is also needed for hospital laundries in order to maintain hygiene. "

For a number of months, the ICRC has worked with most of the Ministry of Health hospitals in Gaza to improve the quality of the water they use. In the past few days, the ICRC installed a purification system at Nasser Mubarak Hospital in Khan Yunis which removes salts and impurities from water so that it is safe to use in dialysis and other treatments. A similar system will be installed at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in the coming days. At Tel Sultan Hospital in Rafah, the ICRC is drilling a well, installing a pumping system for wastewater and setting up water-sterilization equipment.


Other ICRC activities
  • The ICRC continued to register people whose houses were partly or totally destroyed. So far, the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent Society have assisted more than 60,000 people, many of whom hav e received plastic sheeting to cover windows and damaged walls. Many also received kitchen sets, mattresses, blankets, and hygiene items such as soap, shampoo and diapers.

  • 70 amputations have been carried out at Shifa Hospital. The first five amputees have been to the ICRC-supported Artificial Limb and Polio Center in Gaza City for consultation. They were given advice on physiotherapy and physical training, and if possible will be fitted with artificial limbs once their wounds have healed properly.

For further information, please contact:
  Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
  Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50
  Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)
  Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)
  Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)