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Supporting Households Impacted by Poorly Processed Wastewater on the Gaza Strip
Published 11/18/2022 by Global Communities
On the Gaza Strip, access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is fragile and an estimated 25% of households are not connected to the wastewater network. Access to WASH varies drastically by location, as many unconnected households are outside of Gaza’s five largest cities. Chronic power shortages limit regular operation of treatment plants, leading to improper disposal of poorly treated wastewater that goes on to contaminate coastlines and infiltrate the aquifer. Ongoing exposure to the chemical and biological contaminants in poorly treated or untreated sewage poses serious health risks to Gaza’s residents. Nearly one-quarter of known cases of illness in Gaza are water-related, and water-related diseases are the most common cause of morbidity in children.
Approximately 40,000 homes without sewer connections rely on cesspits and septic tanks, which are located near their houses. Even the homes that are connected to sewage networks present challenges, as aging infrastructure often lacks regular maintenance, repair and renovation, resulting in sewage leaks. The untreated sewage from cesspits and aging septic tanks leaks into and pollutes groundwater, contaminating the fragile Gaza aquifer. As a result, 96.2% of household water from the aquifer is non-potable.
Fortunately, the addition of three new treatment plants put in operation two years ago helps absorb sewage contamination generated by different localities of the Gaza Strip. While this is a positive move forward, aging treatment plants still need maintenance, and the new ones need to be expanded to absorb the sewage generated from natural population increases.
House by House, Neighborhood by Neighborhood
With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Gaza Household WASH (GHW) project, implemented by Global Communities, targets pockets of households severely impacted by gaps in WASH services. GHW connects identified households to functioning wastewater networks and wastewater treatment plants and increases awareness of good WASH practices by providing sustainable solutions tailored to each neighborhood context. For households that need additional support, GHW provides sufficient and safe water for domestic use and adequate sanitation facilities.
At the neighborhood level, the project also contributes to improving environmental health by reducing the risk of fecal matter contamination in public spaces and groundwater aquifers and by mitigating flood risks brought on by poorly stored waste.
A Personalized Approach to Hygiene and Health Promotion
Hygiene is crucial for improving health. And while hygiene is a very sensitive issue, as it relates to individual habits and behaviors, GHW’s approach includes one-to-one hygiene and health promotion training at the household level.Since the available statistical information and resources in the WASH sector did not reflect project needs, GHW developed a comprehensive audit tool to help identify WASH risks among individual households.
This data, collected annually among three cohorts, is used to design appropriate, hardware-related solutions. Interventions are paired with behavior change education that provides each household with a greater understanding of the principles behind good WASH practices and practical methods to implement them.
For example, the GHW team recently completed the project’s first-year audit/survey of 4,500 households lacking access to WASH in six marginalized target areas. Based on analysis of the data and field visit verification, the project developed the following plan:
In addition to these planned activities, GHW has already provided WASH education to 3,500 households through health promotion and education sessions and health materials designed with participants’ specific needs in mind. As a follow-up, from December 2022 to February 2023, 3,500 hygiene kits will be distributed to the households. The kits include items such as face masks, hand sanitizer, hand soap, toilet paper, sanitary pads, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soft wipes, dishwashing soap, sponges, garbage bags and other basic cleaning supplies.
Ghalia, 63, is head of a household that consists of 6 members who received support from GHW during the project’s first year. She said, “When I received the hygiene kit and touched the items, I had a great feeling of joy and satisfaction since I was not able to afford anything of the items for a while.”
Before the end of September 2024, GHW will connect 10,400 targeted households to existing public services, such as sewage and water networks, and more than 4,000 households will benefit from four stormwater drainage projects in four localities.
This success story is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Global Communities and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.