During the last few months, the power company has not been able to operate at full capacity due to increased demand and lack of fuel. In the middle of this hot summer that we are living, the two million people who inhabit the coastal enclave were left with an average of ten hours of electricity a day.
But with the latest offensive, which has claimed the lives of 48 people, of which 17 were boys and girls, Gaza’s only power plant closed. Thus leaving the Gazan population with only four hours of electricity a day.
In the Palestine refugee camp on the beach, known as ‘Beach Camp’ and located west of Gaza City, the women of the Abu Gaben family find it difficult to cope with these few hours of electricity, especially regarding the water supply. With the energy crisis, desalination plants are being hit hard, many homes are experiencing water outages, and sewage is not being treated. The family’s grandmother, Amina Abu Gaben, 75, explains that they have “three days of water a week.”
In this camp, the third largest in the Strip and one of the busiest, There is a great demand for fresh water that collides with the brutal scarcity derived from the lack of infrastructure and electricity.
Also known as the “Shati” camp, the beach camp initially housed 23,000 refugees who were expelled from Lydd, Jaffa, Be’er Sheva and other areas of Palestine. Currently, the camp houses more than 85,000 people, who reside in an area of just 0.52 square kilometres.
In one of its narrow alleys, in a house of 100 square meters, the 14 people of the Abu Gaben family are crowded. “Dirty clothes and dishes are always piled up waiting for the water to reach the house,” Amina comments about the lack of clean, running water.
“Sometimes I don’t shower for two or three days”, says Amina’s daughter-in-law, Amal Abu Gaben, 48. One of the most basic needs, such as maintaining personal hygiene, is impossible to manage, the lack of water leaves them without the opportunity to take a short shower a day, something essential especially in summer with the high temperatures that devastate the area. Amal says that the lack of water also creates tensions between family members: “It causes a lot of problems. We always fight because water is essential and we cannot have it.”
In addition, the Gazan population also faces contamination of the groundwater that supplies the camp due to sewage. “The problem is not only the lack of water, but the little that reaches the house is contaminated.” As a result, the family has contracted illnesses. Three months ago they noticed that the problem with the water worsened and went from scarcity and salinity to contamination. “The insects in the water and the bad smell are evident.”
“We all suffer health and skin problems due to water contamination,” says the family’s grandmother. Ella Haneen’s 18-year-old granddaughter began to feel the effects on her skin with itching and redness. Hannen’s mother took her to the emergency room of the UNRWA clinic closest to her, where the doctor diagnosed an infection that caused the appearance of fungi, technically known as dermatophytes. She was advised to avoid this type of water and prescribed medication. “But it is the only water available. What I can do? Not showering at all,” says Hannen.
Both of Haneen’s brothers were diagnosed with intestinal problems accompanied by vomiting and weight loss. “My husband also suffers from scabies and UNRWA doctors have prescribed medication for him,” says Amina’s grandmother.
The scarcity of water means that it has become a precious commodity that does not reach the homes of citizens every day.
“Our neighbors are also always sick.” Nearly a third of homes in Gaza are not connected to a clean water and sanitation system. The tap water is salty, polluted and the supply is spotty and unpredictable. They depend on huge barrels, if they can pay their price.
The trauma in Gaza shakes a population that survives in constant uncertainty wondering if they will have water and electricity today or when the bombing will return, while surviving in a open air prison.