When Hygiene becomes a Luxury ... the Overlooked Repercussions of Poverty in Gaza
random cleaning materials are sold in Gaza Strip neighborhoods without supervision
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
At the entrance of a 50-year-old widow's house in AlShati’ refugee camp west of Gaza City, you’ll find three large jugs, each filled with about 20 liters of homemade cleaning supplies. They are made out of simple raw material and are meant to be used by the six members of the household for bathing, washing the dishes and rinsing the old asbestos covered floors.
Umm Faraj 'Abd al-Bari used to buy bleach, hand soap and shampoo from a street vendor with a donkey- drawn carriage who used to come by her area twice a month. She would buy each jug of cleaning material for 7 to 10 shekels ($2-3).
The advantage of these detergents according to Umm Faraj is that they are cheap but that they are not as effective in cleansing as those typically sold at supermarkets and shops, which are products that are mostly imported from abroad.
Despite the importance of cleaning supplies, it no longer of primary importance to many Palestinian families in Gaza. According to a poll conducted by Afaq Environmental Magazine with a group of citizens in Gaza, including Um Faraj, cleaning supplies are currently ranked second to third on the scale of importance to household due to the lack of some of the more basic needs.
According to recent figures published by the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights, about 70% of the population in Gaza Strip suffers from shortage of food or food insecurity of some form . Following the Israeli aggression on Gaza in the summer of 2014, international aid has decreased leaving the majority of the population vulnerable and incapable of securing their most basic food needs.
According to the poll, citizens agreed that buying cleaning supplies required a substantial financial budget that is difficult to find at the present time This is due to the deterioration of economic conditions and the surge of poverty due to the ongoing Israeli siege as well as the reduction in Palestinian Authority salaries in the Gaza Strip. Citizens affirm that food has not only become a top priority for them, but rather the sole priority
Cheap cleaning supplies….but!
People point out that high quality cleaning supplies no longer find their way into their homes as now they were left with no option but to alternate to cheaper home-made ones.; In fact the price of these products does not exceed 2 shekels ($0.55) per liter compared to imported ones, which are threefold as expensive.
Environmental experts have warned that the environmental crisis in Gaza is worsening and heading towards a full-fledged environmental disaster
According to experts, Palestinian families are now desperately in search of a livelihood as they struggle to secure their most basic daily needs.
Public Hygiene at sake
As a result of deepening poverty and the scarcity of job opportunities, many individuals have resorted to making cleaning detergents using simple raw materials in their homes and selling them at low prices for a small source of income and avoid having to ask others for money.
These small professions are often not subject to inspection by authorities in the Gaza Strip, which may pose a threat to their users.
The 20-year-old Ahmed Abu Zanada, one of the vendors of homemade cleaning supplies, acknowledges the poor quality of these products, noting that the raw materials used may sometimes be ineffective or even useless for domestic use.
Abu Zanada, who previously worked many jobs but quit due to little financial return, says that most of his clients are low income families and that those who are better off financially resort to imported cleaning products.
Fadwa Atwa, is housewife who has a similar condition when it comes to the situation of hygiene in her home. She complains from the accumulation of dirty clothes as she is unable to use the washing machine due to frequent electricity and water cuts that extend for long hours and sometimes even for days on end.
For this reason, she forces her children to keep their clothes on for longer periods in order to prevent the accumulation of dirty clothes as she is unable to wash them or buy new clothes.
She also expects that the situation will worsen, especially with the start of the new school year and the need to regularly wash school uniforms.
Emergency assistance and preventive measures
With poverty and unemployment exceeding 50% in Gaza Strip, hygiene has become a luxury, says economic expert Mohammed Abu Jiyab.
Abu Jiyab points out that the citizen's priorities are no longer limited to the lack of attention to personal hygiene, but rather adapting to larger problems such as the pollution of sea water, groundwater and soil due to several factors, including poor economic conditions and the Israeli siege.
It should be noted that many families who receive purchase vouchers from charities and relief organizations are prohibited from purchasing cleaning materials from shops under the pretext that they are not included in the purchase list.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh
Edited by: Nidal Atallah