Life In Gaza Deteriorates As Water, Power Shortages Intensify Tens of thousands of displaced Gazans face skyrocketing prices for limited water supplies, and severely disrupted electricity service. As well, long lines are developing for staples like bread.

Life In Gaza Deteriorates As Water, Power Shortages Intensify

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Israel is calling up more reserve soldiers bringing the total of mobilized Israeli reservists in this latest Gaza war to 86,000. Yesterday the U.S. agreed to Israel's request to resupply it with ammunition. In a moment we'll hear how the unexpected strength of Palestinian militants is challenging Israel in this conflict. But first we go to Gaza where NPR's Emily Harris reports how the conflict is weighing on daily life.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: At a U.N.-run school where she was taking shelter from the fighting, Fulla Abed Rabou washed clothes in an outdoor sink. City pipes deliver some water but with thousands of people taking refuge at schools much more has to be trucked in. Still there is sometimes not enough says Merit Hietanen, a U.N. employee managing water deliveries to the schools.

MERIT HIETANEN: One of the major issues is just that the tanks in the actual schools, the capacity is not big enough. So, if we're tankering water, even if we managed to do it twice a day they will run out.

HARRIS: She's contracting with every delivery service she can find and the price is going up.

HIETANEN: Yea going up, going up all the time. So, it's a sellers' market right now and there's not much we can do about that.

HARRIS: In some areas the price of drinking water has tripled in a week. The Habib family is feeling the pinch. 68 members of the extended family are renting a three bedroom apartment in Gaza city. Their homes were destroyed by bombing in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood. In the apartment's kitchen a big black tank for drinking water sits on the counter. Sayeed Habib says they buy water from a vendor if he can deliver.

SAYEED HABIB: (Through translator) We call to get it filled every three days but the water station has no electricity, so the owner needs to buy gas for a generator. Pumping it here requires gas too. All these costs are passed on to us.

HARRIS: Because water in the Gaza aquifer is salty it must be desalinated before drinking. People use briny water here to bath and to clean. Monthir Shoblaq heads Gaza's water authority. He says in the best of times electricity to run water pumps is limited, so workers have to make constant small adjustments all over the system.

MONTHIR SHOBLAQ: So, it needs somebody to go two, three, times a day to operate a well. And this is only a well. So, downstream the system, there are valves, like you see in the manhole. It's a valve. He needs to come and remove the cover and open a valve in order to switch the water from place to another place.

HARRIS: Most of the wells are in the east of Gaza, behind the Israeli army now. Shoblaq says it's been almost impossible for workers to get to wells since Israel's ground invasion started. But even if they could go turn on the pumps there's not enough electricity to run them. Power-line crews are operating in Gaza City but like water workers they can't get to the border where Gaza's main power lines come in from Israel. Fadhi al-Shaikh Khalil chairs Gaza's electricity distribution company. He says Israeli armored vehicles have knocked down transmission poles.

FADHI AL-SHAIKH KHALIL: Mostly as I get from the technician it is of the tank. Tanks sometimes to facilitate their operation they will hit it and even they pass over it.

HARRIS: The damage means the electricity supplied by Israel is only 10 percent of normal. Gaza has one power plant of its own but it shut down after its three fuel tanks were shelled and caught on fire.

KHALIL: One is the daily tank and two is the main storage tank. All the three are melted.

HARRIS: Khalil says he thinks replacing the fuel tanks will take a year. With little electricity, little water and tens of thousands of people living away from home another basic shortage is beginning in Gaza city. Yesterday long lines ran out the doors of many bakeries. At one, Yassir Saadat had been in line an hour and was still out on the sidewalk.

YASSIR SAADAT: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: I'm going to get two bags of bread, he says. It's not enough, but that's all they'll let you buy.

Inside, the line ran past empty shelves to the very back of the shop. The bakery owner has no time for conversation he's taking steaming pita bread off a conveyor belt and filling plastic bags as fast as he can. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza.

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