UN warns Ebola could infect 10,000 people per week—unless we act now

In Gaza: Delivering safe water despite the danger

By Oxfam
Mahmoud Hneif often rises at 6 a.m. to start delivering water for displaced families in Gaza. Photo: Iyad Al Baba / Oxfam

Though a ceasefire is now in place in Gaza, the needs of its residents remain critical. People like Mahmoud Hneif have been dodging weeks of danger to help displaced families survive: He has been driving trucks filled with clean drinking water for thousands of families who have fled their homes.

The bombing of the past six weeks has caused massive damage to Gaza's water supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without running water, as wells and pipelines have been destroyed. The bombing of Gaza's only power plant means most areas now get just a few hours of electricity a day, making it hard to keep water pumps operating. Most of the population lacks clean water and safe sanitation.

Since the start of the crisis Oxfam and one of its local partners, the Youth Empowerment Centre (YEC), have delivered safe drinking water to more than 250,000 people who have taken refuge in overcrowded schools and other shelters across Gaza.

Hneif's family runs a desalination center where the water is treated to make it safe to drink, before it is put into trucks and delivered. With the needs so huge, everyone in Gaza has been helping out however they can. Hneif says his neighbors often come to the desalination center to help treat the water.  Sometimes there is only electricity to desalinate the water at night, so Hneif sleeps at the center. He's also been getting up at 6 a.m. to drive one of the trucks.

"When the people see the water truck entering the school, they all gather with empty water bottles," he says. "In the early days of the crisis, some people were so desperate they even filled their bottles when a few drops of water fell from the truck. It's a scene I'll never forget."

Delivering water and other aid has been a dangerous job throughout the crisis. Three staffers from the local municipal water agency were killed while trying to repair damaged pipelines.

"The insecurity has been one of the biggest challenges," says Hneif. But he has stayed with the work, despite its dangers, because of the desperate need people have for water.

"When we arrived at the school the situation was horrible," says Salwa, whose name has  been changed to protect her identity. She and her family fled their home and are now sheltering in one of the schools where Hneif delivers water. "After a few days, trucks started to come and fill the water tanks in the school. It was like finding water in the desert. What we really need is to be able to go back to our homes and be safe, but having clean water at least stops us getting sick." 

It's usually late in the evening when Hneif returns to the center and gets a chance to see his own family. They have also fled their home due to the bombing. After a few hours, he starts work again.

“I feel we are here doing something purely humanitarian,” he says.

Oxfam's emergency water distribution in Gaza is providing people with an average of three liters of safe drinking water a day.