THE LEVANT – Feriel al-Zaaneen hasn’t had a shower in more than a month. Like thousands of Palestinians, she doesn’t have enough water to wash, adding to the miseries of life in war-battered Gaza.
In searing summer heat, where temperatures can reach 34 degrees Celsius, (93 Fahrenheit), Feriel is one of more than 218,000 refugees sheltering in 87 UN-run schools from a conflict that has killed at least 1,980 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side since July 8.
“There’s no water here and the toilets are very dirty, this is no kind of life,” she said.
Zaaneen, her children and grandchildren, some 50 people, fled the Israeli bombardment of their homes.
She says she faces a daily struggle to get water, a precious resource in the Hamas-controlled enclave which has been under Israeli blockade since 2006.
The UN says that 365,000 Palestinians are still displaced in Gaza, like 37-year-old Faten al-Masri, who has to wash her children with bottles of drinking water.
As she sprinkles cold water on her two-year-old daughter, the toddler screams, her skin covered in angry red blotches.
“All my children got sick here because of the dirt and the lack of hygiene, they’ve all got skin infections and scabs,” Faten said.
“There is no water in the bathrooms, and they were so dirty that we couldn’t even go inside,” she said.
“I have been bathing my sons every three days here in the classroom with bottles of water.”
She herself has not taken a shower since arriving at the school two weeks ago.
“Some people use water bottles inside the class, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It would feel like I was taking a shower in the street if I did that. Anyone could open the door and come in, there’s no privacy,” she said.
“I feel really bad. Not being able to shower makes me feel restricted and anxious,” she said.
Muntaha al-Kafarna, a mother of nine who has been living in a small tent she set up in the courtyard of the same school, near the toilets, managed to shower at a nearby hospital in the northern Gaza Strip.
“The water was cold, and there wasn’t very much of it, but I didn’t have any other solution,” she said.
“People are fighting here in the school to use the toilets, my sons wet themselves before their turn comes,” she said.
She points to her children, stood around her. She bends down and inspects the fair hair of her one-year-old son, picking out a louse.
“My sons have caught lice and nits because they can’t shower here,” she said.
“I wish a missile would hit us, me and my children. Dying is better than this life,” she said in despair.
Her husband Hazem agreed.
“It’s not really living,” he said, his chin pocked with red spots he says were caused by poor hygiene in the school.
Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the health ministry in Gaza, says skin diseases, rashes and itchiness have been reported in shelters housing refugees.
Among the children, there have been “many cases of chronic diarrhoea” and “several cases of meningitis reported”, he added.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), says there are water shortages not only in shelters for the displaced but across the entire enclave.
“Because of the Israeli bombardment of the infrastructure, there is a lack of water across the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Most residents suffered water shortages even before the war, but now Monzer Shoblak, an official from the local water board, said war damage meant that Gaza was pumping 50 percent less water.
Shoblak’s water authority declared Gaza a “water and environmental disaster area”.
The territory’s only power station was knocked out by Israeli shelling during the conflict, practically stopping the provision of drinking water, he said.
Samar al-Masbah, 27, who lives in Al-Zahra City southwest of Gaza City, said water to his home had been cut off around 10 days ago.
“When the water comes, the electricity cuts, so the water doesn’t get to the tanks on the roof because it needs a motor to push it up,” she said.