It was 90 degrees today. When I came home from the office, I took a quick shower, put a load of laundry in the washing machine and rinsed some vegetables for dinner. I poured myself a glass of ice water and thought about Ghalia and her seven kids living in Gaza City.
Water is readily available to me; still I am mindful of what I consume. But as careful as I am, I waste more water in a day than Ghalia has access to in a month.
Ghalia is 48 years old and lives with her children in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City, where most water is unfit for human consumption.
Ghalia, like so many mothers in Gaza, struggles every day to find clean water for herself and her children. And she worries every day about her children becoming sick or even dying from the filthy water they are sometimes forced to drink.
What's most maddening to me is that Ghalia's crisis is utterly avoidable. It's not the result of an earthquake or any other natural disaster, but of Israeli military policies. Early last year, Israel destroyed Gaza's water infrastructure in a protracted bombing campaign. Ghalia's husband and 39 other relatives were killed in the bombing. Since then, an economic blockade has prevented Gazans from importing the materials they need to rebuild the water system.
More than a year after the bombing, Gaza City's water infrastructure remains in ruins, barely functioning and filled with deadly bacteria, sewage, salt, toxic nitrates and other impurities. The biggest danger is to babies and young children. For them, waterborne diseases--even a simple case of diarrhea--can easily become life-threatening.
Without immediate intervention, families like Ghalia's are at great risk for cholera, hepatitis and other deadly diseases.
For Ghalia, getting safe drinking water is an exhausting, endless struggle. From her small patch of land where she raises vegetables to sell in the market, she earns about $162 a month. With this, she must provide everything – rent, food, clothes, transportation, seeds and tools to grow food, medicine–and drinkable water – for herself and her children.
Clean water costs Ghalia $50 a month – that's four times as much as contaminated water costs from the municipality. It's also about one third of her income. If other expenses or emergencies eat up her budget, she can't buy clean water at all.
Sometimes a friend or neighbor will share their drinking water. "But we can't have a person help us and give us water all the time, " she told me. "We have to use the water we can find and it's full of salt and disease. I am filling my tanks with it because I have no choice."
Working with our sister organization, the Zakher Association for the Development of Palestinian Women's Capacity, MADRE is installing 25 large water filters in the five communities of Gaza City with the worst water and highest rates of contamination. Each filter can serve about 350 families with children.
We are also installing smaller water filters in 10 kindergartens, each one serving an average of 150 girls and boys between four and five years old. It's so important to get clean, safe water to these little ones!
How much will all this good work cost?
MADRE needs to raise $18, 750 to fund the 35 filters and bring fresh, clean, drinkable water to an estimated 54, 000 people throughout Gaza City. That's an average of $2.88 a person -- about the cost of one premium bottle of water.
Ghalia told me that clean water would change her life and that of her kids. She told me that if she could spend fewer hours collecting water and had more time to work in her fields, she knows she could earn more at the market and maybe afford to send her children to school. She knows they'd be sick less often.
Like any mother, Ghalia wants to give her children the best she can. She knows that for young children who are already undernourished, waterborne illnesses can be life-threatening, but she needs our support to keep them safe.
[Vivian Stromberg, Executive Director]
P.S. – As a result of international pressure to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israel has finally agreed to allow more materials through the blockade, making this a perfect time to deliver the water filters to our sister organization. Now is the time to act!
P.P.S. – There are so many other stories just like Ghalia's. To read about Maryam, another mother struggling to provide water for her family, follow this link.