Water sales soar in Gaza

Palestinian boys wait to fill empty bottles with water in the Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis after Israel earlier in the day destroyed the main power plants stopping the home distribution of water on June 28, 2006.

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: For the second time in two days, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has demanded that Israel prevent a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip. Israel has rejected a call from the Hamas-led Palestinian government for a ceasefire. They have said there would be no truce until a captured Israeli soldier is freed.

Two weeks ago an Israeli air raid on a power station crippled the power supply in the Gaza region. That impacted water and sewage plants which depend upon electricity to run their pumps. That's led to a run on things like candles and water. Merchants that sell water have seen their sales soar. Irris Makler tells us about one in particular.


IRRIS MAKLER: Husam El Amassi runs one of the oldest and most expensive water retail outlets in Gaza. A one-gallon jug costs about 45 cents. And a 1,000-liter drum sets customers back almost $10.

Without electricity, El Amassi must use generators to power the filtration system, but he won't pass that cost on to customers. One recent afternoon, people queue outside his shop to fill plastic containers and hand over their shekels.

Occasionally a person walks in off the street and takes a cup of water without paying for it.

He says it's no a big deal, they're thirsty and it's hot, so why not?

El Amassi has been here in the centre of Gaza city since 1998, purifying Gaza's poor quality water, then adding minerals and fluoride to make it drinkable and good for you. That's why people pay him twice as much as most other water sellers.

HUSAM EL AMASSI [translator]: I add sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium chlorides, and then balance the acidity. I make mineral water. This quality is the secret of my success. Some other companies just extract water from the ground and sell it as it is, without adding anything.

El Amassi says that since the Israeli air strike on Gaza's only power plant, business has been booming. People no longer have reliable supplies of water in their homes and they're flocking to his shop.

HUSAM EL AMASSI [translator]: Yes, it's a 50 percent increase in sales. I used to sell one of those tankers a week and now I sell two. But I won't increase the price. I'm frightened of losing my customers. The prices stay as it they're written on the wall.

El Amassi sells two gallons of water to Said El Ghandour an engineer who usually filters his water at home. But the filter uses power, and now with the outages, it's out of action. He could hardly find a container in all of Gaza to bring along here

SAID EL GHANDOUR: We are facing problem in my hose in getting even water - yesterday there was none at all, and I had problem preparing milks for my baby, so today I go around the market and this container takes me more than one hour to find.

The power plant hit by Israeli planes two weeks ago suffered major structural damage and experts say it will take weeks to repair. Until then power and water supplies will remain a problem here.

In the Gaza Strip, I'm Iris Makkler for Marketplace.

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