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From the field

Eyes Wide Open | Photo Blog


August 2020

Gazans’ total dependency on Israel’s good graces can be broken down into endless categories and kinds of pain, but the dire shortage of water leaves one at a loss for words. Some two million people rely almost entirely on a single water source – the coastal aquifer – which has been polluted by over-pumping and wastewater contamination. Accordingly, 97% of the water is contaminated and non-potable. Gazans are forced to use this murky water for bathing, dishwashing, cleaning, and watering crops. For cooking and drinking, they buy desalinated water in containers, 70% of which is polluted. In the summer, when consumption naturally rises, things get worse.

Residents try to store water in containers on their rooftops, so it can flow down to the taps when the water supply is cut off, but need electricity to pump the water up. As the water and power supply are often unsynchronized, they have to find other solutions and find themselves in an endless pursuit of water – which is scarce and polluted to begin with. 

The salinity level in the water is so high that it eats away at everything. Gazans report severe damage to faucets, pipelines, water tanks and pumps, and describe the frustrating need to periodically replace them. Hatem Hamad (55): "All the faucets in our house are full of limestone and rust, which makes them fragile. The minute one part needs fixing, everything breaks down. Even the toilet’s ruined from the salt and can break when you clean it". When you see this damage, you can’t help wonder what the salty water does to the human body. Photo: Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem
Residents stock large amounts of water, by any means, for when the taps run dry. The World Health Organization sets the required water consumption per capita at 100 liters a day, at least. This amount is supposed to cover basic needs such as drinking, bathing, cooking, washing and using the toilet. In Gaza, average water consumption per capita is 88 liters a day; in Israel, it is more than 200. Photo: E. B.
Residents buy unregulated cooking and drinking water from tankers, much of which is unfit for consumption. The price ranges from 15 to 50 NIS (~6 to 20 USD) per cubic meter – a costly expense for most Gazans. Buthaynah Abu Ghaben (44): "Sometimes, I don’t have money and I ask the vendor for credit. When I don’t have money, I collect rainwater for our household needs". Photo: E. B.
The endless preoccupation with buying water, transporting it, storing it, and pumping it into containers is slowly wearing residents down. They know that even when the flurry of exhausting activity is over, their children will not enjoy sweet, tasty, healthy water. Instead, they will drink salty, polluted water that is bad for their health and eats away at their hair and clothes. Buthaynah Abu Ghaben (44): "The salty water causes a lot of problems. It’s bad for your hair and fingernails, makes your skin dry, damages the teeth and ears, and makes your eyes and whole body itch terribly after the shower. I feel like it’s almost sewage, not even fit for animals to drink". Photo: E. B.
Residents have no choice but to water their crops with the same substandard water. Fruit trees cannot thrive in these conditions, as they need fresh water, yet vegetables manage to grow. Hatem Hamed (53): "The salty water is not even good for agriculture. I planted fruit trees such as figs, grapes and citrus fruit again and again, but they didn’t grow because of the salinity". Photo: E. B.
The Mediterranean summer is tough. Without air-conditioning, electric fans or other ways to cool off – not to mention the means to buy such appliances or go to a swimming pool – water can offer temporary relief. Photo: E. B.
Residents describe anxiously waiting for the water and power supplies to come back on – which can happen at any hour of the day or night, with no prior notice. The moment both supplies come on simultaneously, the residents rush to pump as much water as they can into the containers before one of them stops. People who manage to fill up their containers feel lucky. Samira ‘Abd a-Salam (55): "Sometimes, we stay awake until dawn waiting for the water supply to come on, so we can pump water while the electricity is still working". Photo: Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem
Private companies desalinate water to the best of their ability and sell it in tankers by commission. Since the available equipment is not advanced enough, measurements show that 70% of the water residents buy privately is polluted. Hala al-Kahlut (39): "We have to buy drinking water separately, but I feel that it is not really fit for consumption either. We’re suffering very much from this situation and I can’t wait for it to be over". Photo: Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem

Eyes Wide Open Photo Blog by B’Tselem is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You are free to use the photos in the blog. However, any public use of photos must include copyright credit to the photographer and B’Tselem.