The Maia Project: Bringing Clean Water to the Children of Palestine

Bringing Clean Water to the Children of Palestine

There is a growing water crisis in Palestine that affects agriculture, industry, and the health of virtually every adult and child. In the Gaza Strip, poor sanitation and over-extraction have polluted the limited water supply. In September 2009, the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) launched the Maia Project (Arabic for “water”)  to provide Palestinian children with clean, safe drinking water.

This project began when the Student Parliament at the UN Boys’ School in Bureij Refugee Camp, Gaza were given the opportunity to choose one thing they most wanted for their school: They chose to have clean drinking water. MECA’s partner in Gaza heard about this vote and, after meeting with representatives from the school and the Student Parliament, came to MECA to see if we could respond to the children’s request for drinking water. MECA provided the funds to build a water purification and desalination unit for the school in 2007.

MECA is working in partnership with community organizations in Gaza to build water purification and desalination units in schools throughout the Gaza Strip. We have provided clean water to  nearly 73,000 children at 39 large UN schools in Palestinian refugee camps and to 32 kindergartens in refugee camps, towns, and villages.

MECA is seeking supporters to expand the Maia Project to schools throughout Gaza. A large purification unit for a UN school in a refugee camp costs $12,000. The UN schools run in shifts due to overcrowding and each unit provides drinking water for 1,500-2,000 children and staff. A small purification unit for a preschool or kindergarten costs $4,000 and serves 150-450 children. Many organizations, individuals, and schools around the US are raising the whole cost of a unit in their communities.

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The Problem

There is a global water crisis, created and exacerbated by poverty and underdevelopment, population growth, global warming, unsustainable agricultural practices, industrial pollution, regional conflicts, and now the privatization of water itself.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli Occupation systematically denies Palestinian adequate quality and quantities of water. Palestinian communities inside the state of Israel have less access to water than their Jewish counterparts, as well. Water is diverted from Palestinian resources the West Bank (and previously in Gaza) to illegal Israeli settlements and into Israel. Israel denies materials, fuel, and permits to sustain and expand water systems. Military attacks predictably—and often deliberately—destroy wells, water tanks, pipes, treatment plants, and sewage systems. Widespread poverty prevents people from purchasing clean water or repairing their wells and plumbing. The health and well being of virtually every Palestinian child and adult is affected by the shortage of clean, safe water.

The water crisis in Gaza is extreme. When the state of Israel was established in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in what is now southern Israel to the small and arid Gaza Strip. At the same time, Israel cut off access to water sources around Gaza. The only source available, the Gaza Aquifer, could not support the huge and sudden rise in population, and the water it generates has been steadily deteriorating for more than sixty years. It is currently estimated that 95% of water from the Gaza Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.

Before the settlements in Gaza were dismantled in 2005, 8,000 settlers lived on 25% of the land and consumed almost seven times the amount of water used by Palestinian towns villages, and refugee camps. When the settlements were dismantled in 2005 they left a path of destroyed water mains, along with tons of bulldozed sand that intensified the seawater contamination of the aquifer. An Israeli water company that provided half the settlers’ with water at a generously subsidized rate has offered to sell to Palestinians in Gaza, but at prices very few can afford.

Numerous military attacks on the Gaza Strip have devastated Gaza’s water infrastructure. The ten-year siege of Gaza has meant an increasingly long waiting list of spare parts, pipes, and building materials. This directly affects Gaza’s ability to maintain its sanitation and water treatment facilities. Meanwhile limited fuel and electricity often shut the systems down altogether.

As a result of all these assaults, the water in Gaza is polluted with untreated sewage, agricultural chemicals, and it is brackish from seawater. Gaza’s water contains high levels of nitrates, chloride and fluoride, and other pollutants that cause significant health problems, including parasitic infections, kidney disease, heart disease, damage to the nervous system, cancers, weakened bones and teeth and a life-threatening type of anemia.

After six decades of pressure on a limited water source, diversion of the water for Israeli use, the blockade on supplies to repair and maintain water systems, and military attacks, the quantity of water in Gaza is inadequate and the quality is dangerous.

The Middle East Children's Alliance Maia Project

Only a just and lasting political solution will ensure Palestinians’ access to clean, safe water. The Middle East Children's Alliance supports and works for an end to Israeli apartheid and for Palestinians’ right to return to their land and control their natural resources. However, our work on the ground is to meet the most pressing and immediate needs of children.

The goal of MECA’s Maia Project is to provide safe clean, drinking water for tens of thousands of Palestinian children by working in partnership with community organizations to build water purification and desalination units in schools and towns throughout the Gaza Strip.

MAIA ProjectThis project began when children at the UN school in Bureij Refugee Camp, Gaza were given the opportunity to hold an election to choose one thing they most wanted for their school: They chose to have clean drinking water. MECA provided the funds to build a water purification and desalination system for the school in 2007. A year later, MECA helped construct a system at the UN school in Nuseirat Refugee Camp. Each unit provides drinking water for 2,000 students and staff.

For the last several years, the Middle East Children's Alliance and Dr. Mona El-Farra, our Director of Gaza Projects, have worked with Afaq Jadeeda Association, a community center based in Nuseirat Refugee Camp with programs for children and families throughout southern and central Gaza. Afaq Jadeeda coordinated the work for MECA’s Maia Project so far. We will continue to partner with them and the United Nations Relief Work Agency (UNRWA), which runs the schools in Palestinian refugee camps, to identify priorities for new systems and oversee the construction of each unit.

The Middle East Children's Alliance is seeking funding from individuals and organizations who are committed to making a significant impact on the health and well-being of Gaza children by contributing to the cost of building and installing water units that will provide safe, clean drinking water for thousands of children.