Desperation as lack of clean water in Gaza sees disease spread

22 March 2024

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This World Water Day, 2.3 million Gazans do not have enough water to meet their daily needs causing disease and illness to spread.

Today on World Water Day (March 22), as around the globe access to safe water is upheld as a fundamental human right, people in Gaza are experiencing dehydration and falling ill amid unsanitary conditions due to a severe shortage of safe water. Not one of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants has enough safe water to meet their daily needs. 
Only one of the three water pipelines from Israel into Gaza is currently functioning, according to UNOCHA, while much water infrastructure in the territory has been damaged by airstrikes. The total amount of water currently available in Gaza is estimated at only 10 to 20% of the amount available before October 7, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and the Palestinian Water Authority. 
Many of the shelters and camps where displaced people are living rely on water being transported to the site via trucks – but these have limited capacity and the frequency of deliveries is affected by the limited supply of fuel. People are spending hours queuing to collect water, only to find it is has run out before they can receive any.  
, a widowed mother in Gaza, said: “I go stand in line for water. The suffering I face is that I wake up, pray, and [then] go to get water, and when my turn comes, the water is finished; there is no [drinking] water. Sometimes I drink salt water because I can't find even one shekel [£0.22] to buy a bottle of water.” 
People are forced to rely on unsafe and salinated water, which is making them ill. Meanwhile water quality monitoring is extremely difficult because vital water testing kits and water treatment chemicals are not available and have been denied access into Gaza by the Israeli authorities.  
Mahmoud, from northern Gaza, who is currently living in a camp for displaced people, said: “The water that’s available for the public is unhealthy. It is unsanitary and not suitable for human consumption. It is loaded with salts and germs, and it isn’t sanitised. The issue with this water is its high saline levels, which leads to urinary problems in terms of kidney stones and urinary sediment and many other issues.” 
A recent WASH assessment which analysed conditions at 75 sites hosting displaced people in Rafah gave a snapshot of the enormous scale of the issue. It found that people had access to a median average of just three litres of water each per day – well below the minimum 15 litres required per person each day to cover all water and sanitation-related needs, including washing.    

On average, there were found to be 891 people per each toilet at the sites assessed – while around two-thirds (67%) of the toilets were classed as either not functioning, or not in a good state and less than half (44%) had handwashing facilities nearby. Three out of four sites assessed had no showers for people to use, and where they were available, there was a median average of 1,764 people per shower.  
21, who is currently living in a school shelter for displaced people in Gaza, said: “It is a major crisis: there is no water, no cleaning materials, few bathrooms, and there are a lot of people from outside [the shelter] coming in to use them. The water flows once every three days, and just for a half an hour, and then it stops. It does not flow continuously at night, and there are no toilet papers or cleaning materials... 
“There is also disease spreading in the school because of the bathrooms. Diseases such as influenza and colds and very common. At night, we do not eat so as not to go to the bathroom, and we do not drink water so as not to go to the bathroom. We need water. Our most basic need is water.’ 

Without sufficient access to safe water, and due to the extremely overcrowded living conditions, it is impossible for people to keep themselves and their surroundings clean, and diseases and illnesses – such as diarrhoea and hepatitis A – are spreading. Doctors and other health professionals are also struggling to treat people and keep their equipment hygienic without adequate safe water, sanitation and hygiene supplies available.
A doctor who is working with the Palestinian Health Ministry in a temporary medical clinic in Rafah - whose name has been withheld to protect his identity – said: “The most common issues are skin problems, ear infections, upper and lower respiratory tract infections, scabies, blood pressure issues, diabetes, seasonal flu…One of the main issues is a lack of sanitation. The fact that this place is packed with a large number of people is also another problem, along with the lack of water, electricity, and personal hygiene supplies. Cases of meningitis and hepatitis are spreading vastly in the camps. 
“We work in inhumane circumstances; it is very hot inside our tent. We don’t have access to water, sanitizers, or cleaning supplies. These are essential to doctors and medical staff...We treat over 300 patients on a daily basis. That is a large number considering our minimal supply of medicine.” 
Riham Jafari, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine, said: “Access to clean water is a fundamental human right, but right now people in Gaza are struggling to survive without enough to drink and keep themselves clean. Every single day they suffer the indignity of having to spend hours queueing or searching for water, and often return to their makeshift homes emptyhanded.  
“The consequences are dire. Already children in Gaza are dying from a lack of food and water, while illness and disease are running rampant through hugely overcrowded and unsanitary camps and shelters. Clean water is urgently needed – along with food and medical supplies – but nowhere near enough aid is currently getting into Gaza and reaching those in need. The warnings have never been starker: famine is imminent unless aid operations are permitted to massively scale up. Gaza urgently needs a permanent ceasefire now to stop the killing and to have any hope of staving off an even more catastrophic humanitarian crisis.”  


Riham Jafari is available as a spokesperson, please contact the press office to arrange.