SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty (via Daily Beast)

SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty (via Daily Beast)

With Gaza’s water system on the verge of “collapse” a humanitarian catastrophe looms, including potential epidemics. The consequences will reach far beyond Gaza’s borders.

by Sandy Tolan for The Daily Beast

GAZA – Mohammed Nimnim carries the water for his family. On a scorching late morning last summer, the 15-year-old pushed an old wheelchair piled high with empty plastic jugs through Gaza’s Shati (Beach) refugee camp. He rattled past modest groceries, makeshift tire shops, and graffiti praising Gaza’s martyrs, down broken concrete lanes, and toward the local mosque, where sputtering taps provide the family’s only source of drinking water.  

No luck. Although it was 94 degrees and oppressively humid, the taps at the mosque were shut off. Mohammed turned around, empty-handed. He walked back under a pounding sun through the Beach Camp, a place whose very name taunts its residents. Barely 100 meters from the Mediterranean, the 87,000 refugees squeezed onto half a square kilometer here face a growing crisis of scarce and contaminated water.  

Mohammed’s mom, Abeer Nimnim, paused to greet us as her son returned with the empty jugs. “May God give you health!” she exclaimed to her visitors. Then she got to the point: “It’s hot and suffocating!”

Four generations of Nimnims, 19 people in all, crowd into three small rooms off a narrow Beach Camp alley. Next to Abeer sits her mother-in-law, Fatemah, 73, who was five when her family was driven from the Palestinian village of Hamama, depopulated during the creation of Israel in 1948. They fled to Gaza, where today three-fourths of the nearly two million Gazans are refugees and their descendants. The family sits on thin cushions on the floor of the airless front room. Because Gaza gets only four to five hours a day of electricity, there’s no fan, not to mention hardly any room to move around. “There isn’t enough space to sleep,” says Abeer. “There’s no space at all, can you see that?”

“And water? Forget about it,” said Abeer’s husband, Atef. “There isn’t any.” In fact, water occasionally runs through the tap, but it’s so salty, no one in Gaza will drink it. “Life is very difficult, you cannot imagine,” Atef laments. “No offense, but dogs live better than me.”

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