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Gaza families desperate for water with no relief in sight

June 12, 2024 at 1:30 pm

A child, carrying a bottle of water, walks on a street filled with debris of destroyed building following the Israeli attacks as the attacks continue to threaten Palestinian people during their daily lives in Gaza City, Gaza on May 13, 2024 [Dawoud Abo Alkas – Anadolu Agency]

It is not only the ever-present danger from Israeli bombardment or ground fighting that makes life a trial for Gaza’s Palestinian civilians. It is also the sheer daily slog to find basic necessities such as water, to drink or cook or wash with.

For the Shenbary family, that can mean a walk of 90 minutes, jerry cans at the ready, in the hope of finding a makeshift distribution point among the mounds of grey, dusty rubble of the Jabalia urban refugee camp in northern Gaza.

“Now that Jabalia has all been bulldozed, all the wells are bulldozed with it. There’s not a single water well left,” family father Ahmed Al-Shenbary said on Saturday. “Water is a big tragedy in Jabalia.”

The latest Israeli war started on 7 October when Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza, crossed the border in an incursion during which 1,200 Israelis were killed, many by Israel Defence Forces tanks and helicopters, according to local media. The resistance movement took around 250 people back to Gaza as hostages. The enclave is one of the most crowded places on earth.

Israel’s subsequent offensive has not only killed at least 38,000 Palestinians — mainly children and women — but also created a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food, fuel and medicine as well as water in a territory whose housing and civilian infrastructure is now little more than rubble.

“Children and their families are having to use water from unsafe sources that are highly saline or polluted,” said Catherine Russell, executive director of the UN children’s fund UNICEF. “Without safe water, many more children will die from deprivation and disease in the coming days.”

People have dug wells in bleak areas near the sea where the bombing has pushed them, or rely on salty tap water from Gaza’s only aquifer, now contaminated with seawater and sewage.

Children walk long distances to line up at makeshift water collection points. Often not strong enough to carry the filled containers, they drag them home on wooden boards.

“As you see, we bathe our children in a small basin. It’s water from washing dishes, not clean water, because of the water shortages,” said Ahmed’s wife Fatima. She bathes her son on the floor in the concrete shell of a wrecked school that now passes for their latest home after several forced relocations.

“We have hepatitis, which causes yellowing of the eyes,” she added. “We also have intestinal infections, not just me but the whole school… Even ‘filtered water’ isn’t really filtered. We fool ourselves and pretend.”

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