Gazans struggle to get water for washing and hygiene

Palestinians in the besieged enclave are resorting to buying salty water

Palestinian children fetch water in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, AFP
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Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are struggling to obtain water for basic needs such as washing clothes and maintaining personal hygiene.

Power outages and network pressure have resulted in continuing cuts to water supplies and severe shortages.

Kosai Hassouna, 24, stood in line until he could fill a barrel with 20 litres of water, which was supposed to last a day.

“Every day or two, a water truck comes to the area, and people gather to fill water from it,” Mr Hassouna told The National.

He said the lorry only stops for 30 minutes. It is not enough time for everyone in the west of Rafah city to get water.

Mr Hassouna and five relatives are staying in a tent in the west of the city in southern Gaza.

“This small amount of water will not be enough to use the toilet, and we also need water for washing and cleaning,” he said.

Kari Thabit, who rented a house in Rafah after fleeing from Gaza city, says his family ran out of water three days ago.

“Yesterday, my sons went to the mosque near us to fill a number of containers so we can use the water for the toilet and for washing. We use the water carefully because it is not available all the time at the mosque,” Mr Thabit told The National.

Previously, water was automatically supplied and barrels would be refilled. That, however, requires power to operate a small generator that helps to pump the water. People are now using larger solar generators, which can be both expensive and unavailable.

“At times, we purchase water and fill the large barrels. Before the conflict, it cost me approximately 20 ILS ($5.50) for potable water, but now it costs 100 ILS ($27) for salty water,” said Mr Thabit.

Odai Hassan, living in Jabalia, relies on groundwater wells in nearby farms, sharing the cost of fuel with his neighbours to power a generator that pumps water. It is then stored in small barrels and transported to their homes.

“It is not an easy process, but we do what we can. We consider ourselves fortunate to have discovered a groundwater well nearby. Otherwise, we would struggle to obtain water,” Mr Hassan, 35, told The National.

“At times, if we cannot find fuel for the generator, we contact the water company to purchase salty water,” he added.

Mohammed Al Najar, who works at a water desalination station in the north of Gaza, starts in the early hours of the morning to ensure an adequate supply for the people.

He said most water desalination stations have either been destroyed by Israeli bombings or cannot operate because of a lack of diesel.

“In northern Gaza, only two or three stations are able to function under these challenging conditions,” Mr Al Najar said.

Water is pumped through a deep well using a submersible pump connected to the station. Mr Al Najar said they now extract significantly less water because of the cost of supplying diesel, which is now around $20 a litre – 10 times the price before the war.

He said that as well as shortages of diesel, the challenges include Israeli attacks and the inability to repair some breakdowns because of the absence of technicians.

“We try to handle repairs [ourselves], sometimes successfully and sometimes not,” he added

“Filling containers for people is carried out using mobile trucks, which are at risk of soon ceasing operation due to the shortage of diesel.”

Mr Al Najar said water workers often also have to work longer hours to meet the increasing demand, especially in the north and Gaza city, because so few desalination stations are operational.

Updated: March 23, 2024, 7:06 PM