‘We have no choice’: illness in Gaza as clean water becomes a luxury | Israel-Hamas war #choice #illness #Gaza #clean #water #luxury #IsraelHamas #war

In a house in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, some of the women in a building housing 60 people decided to cut their hair short to save on water when washing.

Others in southern Gaza say they’re stretching out the time between showers, or flushes of the toilet. Everyone knows exactly how much water they have, and how much they can store. Above all they know that water, especially water that is both safe to drink and doesn’t taste bad, has become precious.

“We store the water used for bathing and washing in a barrel that we keep in the yard of the house,” said Maha Hussaini, a journalist and humanitarian who sought refuge in Deir al-Balah, who described by text message how she was getting by through rationing her water supply for herself, and even for her cat, during the day.

“When did clean drinking water become a luxury?” she posted on social media.

Hussaini said she and her family were surviving by buying as many bottles of water as they can find every couple of days, but even this has become difficult as prices have risen sharply. On Monday, she sent a text message to say she had returned from the local market, and there was no bottled water at all.

“We don’t currently have running water,” she said. “In order to bathe, we usually put water bottles in the sun to heat the water as we also don’t have cooking gas.”

In Khan Younis, at the southern end of Gaza, Mohammed Ghalayini described in a phone call how the price of bottled water fluctuated according to the aid supply. When supplies were tight, a 1.5 litre bottle of water could be more than twice the standard price of 2 NIS (new Israeli shekels – about42p).

“No one can find a water container to buy for love nor money,” he said.

Israeli officials, who oversee piped water supplies to Gaza, cut the majority of water to the enclave in mid-October after Hamas’s attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed.

In the two months since, northern Gaza has been without water while most of the territory’s 2.3 million population displaced to the south have spent hours queueing for water at municipal desalination plants, washing in water from buckets or waiting for a vanishing and irregular supply of water to come through their taps.

During the temporary ceasefire last week, many across Gaza used the time to try to store as much water as possible in whatever containers they could find, from large plastic drums to small canisters. That changed with the resumption of fighting last week as inflows of aid sputtered, according to both journalists and aid groups. As thousands flee a further Israeli advance towards southern Gaza, the previously limited supply of clean water now risks running out entirely.

Palestinians wash cooking pots with seawater amid a lack of clean water.
Palestinians wash cooking pots with seawater amid a lack of clean water. Photograph: Ahmed Zakot/Reuters

No aid was allowed into Gaza at all on Friday, while the Palestinian Red Crescent said 50 aid trucks crossed into the territory the following day, carrying medical supplies, food, fuel – and water. Fresh restrictions on the supply of aid mean fewer bottled water deliveries and reduced fuel supplies to power the pumps at desalination plants and water distribution trucks serving millions of people in Gaza.

Cogat, the Israeli body overseeing aid into Gaza, denied that there had been any decrease in aid entering the enclave since fighting resumed. They declined to answer how much fuel or water is entering Gaza each day.

“Access to water is limited, as the Israeli operation has prevented access to the largest desalination plant in Gaza that previously provided drinking water for 350,000 people,” said Phillippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA), alarmed by the increasing bombardment of southern Gaza.

“Fuel is the main thing, and while we saw a slight increase in the number of aid trucks entering each day during the pause, there was never the agreed 200 trucks per day on any day of the pause. Even that 200 trucks per day is very, very little compared to what’s needed,” said Tamara Alrifai, director of external relations for UNWRA.

UNWRA operates schools, warehouses and other infrastructure across southern Gaza that have been turned into makeshift shelters housing an estimated 950,000 displaced people, along with water wells and desalination plants, all of which need fuel to function, along with the trucks that carry desalinated water to other shelters.

“When we were very low on fuel, which is almost always, the lowest we can provide is 4 litres of water per person per day, even though the international standard is 15-20 litres for everything, that’s drinking two litres, washing your face etc,” she said.

Ghalayini knows exactly how much water there is right now in the house where he’s staying with 24 extended family members: 10 litres of water for each person each day, and enough to last four days in two tanks on the roof when full. For many, the rising prices are making water a luxury item: he estimates that filling the tanks is costing them at least £17 a week, a price out of reach for many.

Across the southern end of the territory, the sound of water sellers calling out “maya helwa” – literally meaning “sweet water”– could signal clean, desalinated water available from a drum carried on whatever the seller can find, whether a truck, a tuk-tuk or a donkey if fuel supplies are low. Even so, sometimes the clean water is mixed with groundwater, or other less appetising sources.

“There was one week where the water coming out of the pipes was ‘sweet water’ every couple of days, and people living on the ground floor of our building told us to bring every container we could find and fill everything up. But now we’ve not had piped water for a week, and there’s nothing in the tanks on the roof – basically any time a water vendor comes around we go out with all our various containers and fill them up,” said Ghalayini.

Alrifai said any drop in the fuel supply also means less water for people across southern and central Gaza. “On days we were very low on fuel and therefore on water, we quickly saw a surge in both skin diseases, as people stopped showering, and also gastric or digestive diseases as people drank whatever water is available to them,” she said.

“Our doctors, across our 126 mobile clinics, notice on days where our water distribution is low, it’s almost immediate that they see all these skin and gastric diseases.”

Cuts to fuel supplies and water also mean that local municipalities in southern Gaza have no way to pump sewage. “The streets of Rafah and Khan Younis are floating with sewage water,” said Alrifai. “It’s a huge health hazard.”

Hussaini said with no bottled water to be found, she cautiously filled an empty water bottle with the contents of the barrel outside her home.

“I’m aware it’s not completely clean but we have no other choice,” she said. “It’s meant to be safe to drink, but when we did that after we were displaced here weeks ago, we suffered symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.”

Ghalayini managed to source a huge water container from his family’s farmland during the ceasefire. He carried it back to Khan Younis, realising it would now be essential. The mammoth meter-wide white drum will have to be winched over the top of their building into a central courtyard, a job he said he is dreading. But still, he added, the extra two cubic meters of water will be “a godsend”.

#choice #illness #Gaza #clean #water #luxury #IsraelHamas #war

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