News from veteran journalist, author, and professor Sandy Tolan
Dear Friends,Sandy recently reported from Gaza, sharing stories of loss — but also of resilience. He is on assignment for an investigation into the water crisis in Gaza, where 97 percent of the drinking water wells are unfit for human consumption, and where officials warn of a complete collapse in the water system by 2020. He will be reporting for the Daily Beast, Al Jazeera English, and Public Radio International’s environmental newsmagazine, Living on Earth. Stay tuned here for more on those reports.
In the meantime, here are Sandy’s initial dispatches of day-to-day life on the ground in Gaza.
On sweltering summer days in Gaza, like today when it hit 95 with 60+ percent humidity, the Shati (Beach) refugee camp can feel unbearable – especially if you don’t have water or electricity.
Electricity throughout Gaza runs for four hours a day. A few can afford generators or battery operated fans. But no one drinks the salty water from the tap. Some families spend nearly half of their modest income on drinking water from roaming trucks, pumped to rooftops in dripping hoses. Others, like 19 members of the Nimnim family, can’t afford to buy water at all.
This morning in #Gaza, a whiff of war in the air in the wake of Israel’s deadly overnight air strikes – a shaking of the fragile ceasefire a few days earlier.
All week long I’ve been looking into the human consequences of Gaza’s water crisis on the ground here, visiting refugee camps, talking to hydrologists, engineers, officials, UNICEF and other international donors, and chatting with people along the harbor and the beach. This morning, as I spoke with a Hamas water minister, the wail of an ambulance and a slow mournful dirge began drifting through the window: a memorial procession for the three men killed last night.
Surreal and disturbing as it was, the true human stakes of the water disaster here came into focus only when I started talking to pediatricians. One, from the health ministry, told me that he’s seen dramatic rises in kidney failure, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, salmonella and severe diarrhea in the children of Gaza – between a 30 and 50 percent rise, he estimated, just over the last few months. Much of this he attributed to water and food contamination, the result of salty well water, water delivery trucks carrying E-coli, and food that spoils with only four hours a day of electricity – part of the economic strangulation of Gaza.
The indelible images of suffering and stories of loss are everywhere in #Gaza.
The family of 19 in three small rooms whose only drinking water comes from plastic jugs filled at the mosque. The woman who lost 38 members of her family during Israeli strikes in 2014. The man who lived with 49 others in a relative’s house after his neighborhood of Shujaiya was flattened. But there is something else that abides in the day-to-day life in Gaza that for me resonates just as deeply: a kind of stubborn resilience in the face of catastrophe.
The other night I was walking along a spit of sand and rock that forms part of the Gaza harbor with Raed, my colleague and translator. The place was rippling with everyday life: fishermen pulling up their nets, laughing and giving each other grief; kids posing for selfies; families gathered under beach umbrellas at small plastic tables, sharing a modest picnic.
A young couple with their three kids invited us to join them. The children nibbled from bags of chips, eyeing me shyly. Rana Dilly poured mango soda into small plastic cups while her husband, Ahmad, pushed an unopened package of chocolate wafers toward me. I politely declined, which of course was a mistake. He laughed and pushed the package closer, telling me, “You are with Palestinians!” In other words, your resistance to our hospitality is futile!