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'This Is a Catastrophe'; One Out of Five Gazans Has No Access to Running Water

Shai Grunberg
Shai Grunberg
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Children in Gaza City fill containers with water during the recent round of hostilities, last month.
Children in Gaza City fill containers with water during the recent round of hostilities, last month. Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP
Shai Grunberg
Shai Grunberg

One of every five people in the Gaza Strip currently has no access to running water. Israeli attacks during last month’s fighting seriously damaged much of the territory’s water infrastructure – wells, pumping stations, sewage treatment plants, desalination plants. The sea is being polluted day after day by untreated sewage, which mixes into the waves breaking on Ashkelon’s beaches and across the sea.

Earlier this month, we at Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, held a Zoom call with engineer Maher Najjar, who has worked for Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility for 22 years. We sought to understand what the territory’s immediate needs are and how we could help.

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“This is a catastrophe,” he said. “We urgently need 5,000 different types of items to repair water systems and networks, but Israel isn’t allowing us to bring a single one of them into Gaza.”

Through its decision to keep its border crossings with Gaza almost completely closed, Israel has blocked the entry of, among other things, equipment and raw materials essential to the territory’s water systems. It has also blocked the entry of fuel for Gaza’s power plant, thereby impeding the delivery of running water for Gaza residents.

Najjar is very worried about the lack of steel pipes. “This is the only type that’s suitable for all of Gaza’s systems and networks and can stand up to high-pressure pumping,” he said. “There is no alternative to it.”

He also cited the lack of epoxy, which is delaying completion of the work on a new desalination plant being built with funding from an international aid organization, as well as the lack of metal mesh, which is essential to filter sand out of the pumped water.

Before the fighting began, he said, he had dared to hope that the Gazan water utility would meet the goals of its strategic plan this year. But obtaining the materials needed to do so depends on a sweeping removal of restrictions at the border crossings.

Moreover, he said, additional damage keeps getting discovered. For instance, internal components of some facilities were shaken or even broken by shock waves from bombs, and “even a small movement is enough for there to be leakage. And that creates several more problems.”

Israel has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants, half of them children, have everything they need to live a proper life. This obligation is intensified by the lethal strikes on thousands of homes, businesses, medical centers and civilian infrastructure.

Yet instead of meeting its responsibilities to Gazans, Israel is cynically exploiting its control of the border crossings and leveraging Palestinians’ distress as a tool for political pressure. It reportedly even asked Egypt to prevent the entry of building materials needed for Gaza’s reconstruction via its own border crossing with Gaza.

Six weeks have passed since a cease-fire was announced. For Israelis, life has returned to normal. The conflict with Gaza has no military solution, yet the new government hasn’t heralded any change in the failed policy of closures and periodic rounds of fighting. Gazans continue to live amid the destruction that the Israeli occupation has imposed on them.

“I always ask every party in the region – leave water and electricity out of the conflict,” Najjar told us as the meeting drew to a close. Then he burst into tears.

Shai Grunberg is the spokeswoman for Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

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