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The Man Working to Hold the Water On in Gaza

Numbers are one method to make the destruction of struggle legible: variety of hostages, variety of kids killed, variety of buildings destroyed, variety of help vehicles that made it throughout the Egyptian border. For Marwan Bardawil, who lives in Gaza, the unit of peril he tracks is cubic meters per hour. Bardawil is a water engineer with the Palestinian Water Authority overseeing Gaza. And lately he’s measuring, in cubic meters per hour, the amount of water flowing via the pipes that, in prewar time, carried 10 p.c of Gazans’ consuming water—pipes which might be managed by Israel. Proper now, with different water sources dwindling, these pipes are Gaza’s lifeline. “The individuals are actually in want of every drop of water,” he instructed me.

For the previous week, I’ve been checking in with Bardawil every single day as he struggles to search out clear sources of water. (You may hear our telephone conversations on this week’s episode of Radio Atlantic). In the perfect of occasions, Bardawil’s job is tough. Gaza sits between a desert and the Mediterranean Sea, so groundwater should be pumped from an aquifer. After years of overuse, even earlier than the struggle started, 97 p.c of the aquifer water didn’t meet high quality requirements from the World Well being Group. Making it protected to drink requires gas, which isn’t considerable in Gaza. The opposite main dependable supply of fresh water is these pipes, three in complete.

In different phrases, the water provide in Gaza was already fragile even earlier than the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel. In a single day, as Israel’s retaliatory bombing marketing campaign started, the gas required for water desalination turned very scarce. Israel controls the stream of supplies out and in of Gaza, and gas has many potential wartime makes use of. Bardawil, in the meantime, saved his eye on these pipes. That first day, he referred to as the engineer who was monitoring the central pc. Inside two minutes, the cubic meters in all three had dropped right down to zero.

Typically neighbors present up on the condo he’s renting in South Gaza along with his spouse, kids, and grandchildren. They determine that as a result of he’s Gaza’s water man, he should have some magic supply of water he can faucet. However this isn’t true. The truth is, over the previous couple of weeks, Bardawil himself has gone three stretches with no working water in any respect—simply a few water bottles to share between the six adults and two kids in his family.

“We’re not, , totally different from Israelis, Jordanians, Egyptians, People. And we deserve a life which is appropriate for a human being,” he mentioned. “We deserve a greater life.”

Hearken to the dialog right here:

The next is a transcript of the episode:

Hanna Rosin: Practically every single day this previous week, I’ve talked on the telephone with a person named Marwan.


Rosin: Hey. Oh, are you able to hear me?

Marwan Bardawil: Sure. Hey.

Rosin: Good night, Marwan.

Rosin: His full title is Marwan Bardawil. He’s 60 and he lives in Gaza, the place the telephone connection is understandably spotty proper now.

Bardawil: The issue is that the networks are so weak.

Rosin: Marwan has a really particular job. He’s not a political or navy determine. He’s not a foreign-policy professional or an activist. Marwan is an engineer, particularly a water engineer for the Palestinian Water Authority. And his job is to get water to the two million those who reside in Gaza, which is difficult, even in regular occasions.


Rosin: Gaza sits between a dry desert and the salty Mediterranean, in order that they should pump groundwater up from under. However over 97 p.c of that water doesn’t meet the water-quality requirements of the World Well being Group.

It’s usually salty, brackish, or contaminated. The vegetation wanted to wash that water require gas, which is in very brief provide proper now. And the one different main dependable supply of fresh water comes from three pipes managed by Israel, which, the day the struggle began, Israel turned off.


Rosin: I’m Hanna Rosin, and for this episode of Radio Atlantic: my telephone calls with Marwan as he tries to maintain the water flowing in Gaza.

The humanitarian disaster there proper now could be overwhelming. The Gaza Well being Ministry says greater than 8,700 individuals have been killed up to now. Meals and gas are working out. And if Marwan can’t get sufficient water to the suitable locations, it will get a lot worse.

Bardawil: We’re very near a public-health catastrophe. And the variety of impacted individuals might be enormous, to the restrict that the well being authorities in Gaza can’t address.

Rosin: With out sufficient clear water, individuals get dehydrated, hygiene deteriorates, sewage backs up. Palestinians are already crowded into colleges and shelters, looking for refuge from the struggle. Take away clear water, and shortly cholera and different lethal ailments may spike.


Information tape: Israel has dominated out permitting fundamental sources or humanitarian help into Gaza till Hamas releases the hostages it kidnapped throughout the weekend.

Rosin: Within the days after Hamas’s terror assault, Israel minimize off utilities in Gaza.

Information tape: Israel’s sustained bombardment has now killed greater than 1,400 individuals. Israel’s vitality minister has insisted no electrical energy, gas, or water provides might be turned on till the hostages are dwelling.

Rosin: So, once I started speaking to Marwan final week, I wished to know precisely what he noticed at that second.

Bardawil: One of many southern pipes goes down from 700 cubic meters per hour to zero. Different line—800 cubic meters per hour—goes to zero. The third one—1,400 cubic meters per hour—goes to zero.

Rosin: You possibly can see that instantly?

Bardawil: It’s a matter of two minutes after they shut it.

Rosin: With gas about to be in brief provide, these three pipes from Israel are Gaza’s lifeline.

Bardawil: That is the primary time that they did such a factor, that they took a call on a better degree, and which isn’t technical. Meaning it’s not a matter of hours or days. Meaning we have now to search for managing the water with out this supply.

Rosin: However then a number of days later, one of many pipes bought turned again on. It was an enormous reduction for Marwan. How or why they bought one again, he’s not occupied with that. He’s simply doing the mathematics. Hospitals, homes, shops all want water. Two million individuals in Gaza want water. And one pipe is healthier than none.

Bardawil: I don’t wish to think about that this pipeline might be minimize off once more. I don’t wish to have a nightmare whereas I’m awake. What we have now at this time is that this pipeline is functioning as regular, and I hope that it will keep.

Rosin: At this level, it was Wednesday, October 25. And as we had been speaking, there was one functioning pipe. What number of extra days till there wouldn’t be sufficient clear water to go round?

Bardawil: At this hour, if issues are remaining like this, after three, 4 days, the catastrophe is there.


Rosin: A month in the past, Marwan and his spouse had been empty nesters. Their son and daughter had each moved out, gotten married, and had kids. They’d go to a minimum of as soon as every week and sometimes take holidays collectively. Now, they’re all collectively in a small condo in South Gaza. The youngsters are understandably confused.

The place did our outdated rooms go? Why can’t we take a shower each night time earlier than mattress, like we used to? The reply shouldn’t be so kid-friendly and runs via Marwan’s head all day: They’ve a little bit multiple gallon of water for six adults and two kids. And that has to final for 2 days.

Bardawil: The very first thing you cease doing is having a bathe. You’re again perhaps 100 years in the past when there was no showers. And so forth. You begin to make the children as the primary precedence, not you. So as a substitute of consuming plenty of coffees and teas and different drinks, you cease doing that, otherwise you do it as soon as a day or twice a day. You cease cooking the kind of meals that consumes water.


Rosin: Comparatively talking, he and his household are fortunate. Marwan is ready to pay for a personal water firm with a solar-powered desalination machine to replenish the constructing’s water tank now and again. That could be a luxurious. When Israel began bombing Gaza, they instructed civilians within the north to maneuver south, however about two-thirds of Gazans reside under the poverty line. So in contrast to Marwan, many can’t afford to lease a short lived condo within the south, a lot much less purchase non-public shops of water.

As a substitute, plenty of Gazans are cramped into makeshift shelters in colleges and hospitals. The best way they get their water is that they stroll for miles, on the lookout for an open water station, after which carry these gallon jugs again to the shelter. Even earlier than this struggle, nearly all of Gaza’s well being issues got here from contaminated water. Marwan hears from his engineers within the discipline that pores and skin ailments are already beginning to present up on the shelters. That’s a primary signal of worse issues to come back.

Bardawil: Some civilians couldn’t discover [water] to drink. Or they’ve very restricted water to drink, or to wash the bathroom after they use it. So there’s a potential for bugs to develop on the bathroom. There’s the odor, the gasses produced from the sewage.

Rosin: So, from the second he wakes up, Marwan is on the telephone to the Purple Cross, to contacts within the West Financial institution, to engineers on the bottom, to the UN, asking if there are any desalination vegetation working, if any pipes burst at this time. Ought to the water that day be diverted to the hospital? Or the bakeries? Or the shelters?

Now, each now and again, individuals present up at his door asking for water. They determine he works within the water authority. He should have entry to some magic faucet that retains the water flowing in his condo always.

Bardawil: They assume that, after all, you simply make a telephone name and the water comes, which isn’t the case.

Rosin: Marwan has truly seen his personal water run right down to zero. A water engineer with out working water counting on a few odd water bottles.

Bardawil: Within the final 20 days, greater than thrice we skilled a time with no water in any respect.

Rosin: And what occurs on a day like that?

Bardawil: You’re nervous. You’re—it’s a tough day. It’s a really, very exhausting day. You can not clarify it. You can not clarify the way you spend the time and attempt to use the minimal of the water.

Rosin: I name Marwan the following day. The mathematics has accelerated.

Bardawil: Yeah. In case you are speaking about numbers, someday is handed, so it’s minus one. Yesterday we’re speaking about three days. At this time we’re speaking about two days. Tomorrow we are going to speak about someday. And that’s it. It’s like you’re working quick to the sting of a gap.

Rosin: That day began with an entire new drawback: A pipe burst close to a cluster of condo buildings. An engineer within the discipline despatched him an image, which I requested Marwan to explain to me.

Bardawil: A avenue stuffed with sewage. Like a small lake of sewage.

Rosin: And does somebody reside on that avenue?

Bardawil: Yeah, yeah. A avenue the place individuals reside, yeah.

Rosin: On a standard, non-wartime day, that is a straightforward drawback. You name an emergency technician. They convey in a suction truck to wash up the mess, disinfect the world, after which change the pipe. I requested him if he may do this now.

Bardawil: No, we can’t do something. You can not even attain the place. We simply wait ’til it evaporates.

There’s nothing to do. It’s past your capabilities, past your management. You already know that it will hurt the individuals, however what we are able to do? Nothing.

And it’s not time in charge your self, as a result of what’s taking place is far past us.

We as civilians, as pure technical individuals answerable for water, we simply focus on offering water to the individuals, no more.

So, after all, we are able to repair engineering issues, nevertheless it’s not the suitable state of affairs to assume that approach. We simply hope that every one this ends. And we hope that folks and the civilians are to not be the facet that loses every part—loses their lives, or their well being.


Rosin: Marwan generally goes to conferences with Israeli water technicians. They share a border, which implies they share another issues, like an aquifer, runoff, and pipes. At these conferences, Marwan says the tone is fairly collegial. They communicate technical English, buying and selling tips on water administration.

What’s unstated is the ability dynamic. Israel controls building supplies flowing out and in of Gaza, that are wanted to restore and replace these water methods.

Nothing is available in or out with out Israeli approval.

Bardawil: And we, as technical individuals, we simply respect that that is the rule and that is the body that we have now, even when we don’t know precisely the explanations behind that. Typically it’s not comprehensible, so we do our greatest to do issues the suitable approach.

Rosin: Why do you respect the rule?

Bardawil: It’s not a matter of why. It’s a matter of you don’t have the selection. They’re the controlling energy.

Rosin: Marwan is 60, and he’s seen Gaza undergo plenty of adjustments. When he was a child, he used to go fishing on the seaside.

Bardawil: I keep in mind fishing with the opposite fishermen, watching them on a regular basis, swimming, attempting to be taught driving the waves.

Rosin: He’s by no means taken his grandkids to that seaside. It was extremely polluted by sewage water and un-swimmable for years. Though, a 12 months in the past, after a large worldwide cleanup effort, Gazans did begin swimming there once more, and plenty of reported that for the primary time in years, the water regarded blue.

I wished to listen to extra about his childhood. Nevertheless it was, by then, virtually midnight Gaza time. Marwan was sounding drained, although he was too well mannered to say so.

Bardawil: We hope, pray each second—not just for the individuals of Gaza, however for the individuals of all of the areas—to have a standard, protected life.

Rosin: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Bardawil: Which, look—by the best way, in spite of everything these disasters, for greater than 75 years, I believe the time is now for fixing this eternally, not only a few years after which again once more into the cycle, which if we are going to proceed like this, there might be no finish.


Rosin: I mentioned goodnight and take care to Marwan. I might speak to him the following day. However then once I referred to as, I heard a recording.

Cellphone audio:Marhaba. (Message follows in Arabic after which English.) “The cellular quantity you have got dialed can’t be reached for the time being. You may go away a voice message by calling …”

Rosin: Extra from Gaza after the break.


Information tape 1: Good night, and thanks for becoming a member of us. We start tonight with a serious escalation within the Israel-Hamas struggle and what could become the following section in an extended and grueling battle.

Information tape 2: Israel unleashing huge wave of air strikes because it expands its floor operations in Gaza as nicely. (Explosion.)

Information tape 3: In the meantime, Gaza is going through a near-total communications blackout, slicing Palestinians off from the surface world and, after all, slicing them off from one another.

[Phone ringing]

Bardawil: Hey?

Rosin: Marwan, that is Hanna.

Bardawil: Hello, Hanna.

Rosin: Oy yoy yoy, I couldn’t—we couldn’t attain you for—we couldn’t attain you. Is everybody protected?

Bardawil: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rosin: What, what was it—what occurred in the previous couple of days?

Bardawil: They disconnect all of the web and communication, from Friday midday ’til Sunday morning.

Rosin: Marwan explains to me how they felt that weekend, and the phrase he used was blind. No calls in or out. No reaching the Purple Cross or the UN. No reaching household. No reaching the man who brings the water tank to their condo. No approach of understanding what was occurring exterior their partitions. However now, with the telephones again on, Marwan had work to do. He needed to care for a broken pipeline.

Bardawil: Sorry, can we speak later?

Rosin: Sure, after all. Sure, after all.

Bardawil: As a result of I’ve to care for a number of the injury in one of many pipelines.

Rosin: This was on Monday. The Israelis had opened up a second pipe, and a spokesperson with the Israeli Protection Forces mentioned that now, these two open pipes ought to present sufficient water to satisfy fundamental humanitarian wants.

However the second pipe was broken, so Marwan needed to discover a technician to repair it. We reconnected later within the day.

Bardawil: Yeah, let’s hope that this pipeline will begin functioning tomorrow.

Rosin: Is that this an enormous reduction or it’s simply small?

Bardawil: It is going to serve a inhabitants of round 1 / 4 million.

Rosin: Oh, good. That’s good.

Bardawil: It’s an enormous one, sure.

Rosin: That’s good.

Rosin: It was a very good second. 1 / 4 million individuals getting clear water could be an enormous reduction. However once we spoke the following day, the pipe nonetheless wasn’t working.

And the primary pipe, that one was down too. Marwan instructed me it was a technical challenge. He mentioned each ought to be working quickly.

However the actuality was that for now, for the time being he and I had been speaking, they had been again to the place they’d been at the beginning of the struggle: zero pipes working.

Bardawil: The individuals are in want, actually in want for every drop of water. Folks can’t follow their regular hygiene practices. And this absolutely will affect their well being.

Rosin: Proper. So each drop of water is vital.

Bardawil: Positive, sure. (Coughs.)

Rosin: Are you okay? Did you get sick?

Bardawil: Yeah, I bought the flu.

Rosin: Oh, no.

Bardawil: Yeah.

Rosin: (Sighs.) I’m very sorry.

Bardawil: It’s not the time for it, however , the surroundings is stuffed with mud.

Rosin: Each time I referred to as him, he appeared extra exhausted, which makes full sense. Gazans are relying on him. His neighbors are relying on him. His household is relying on him. He’s bodily drained, but in addition simply totally exhausted.

Bardawil: We deserve a life which is appropriate for a human being. We deserve a greater life.

When the peace course of was began again in 1993, nearly all of the Palestinians dreamed that perhaps that is the time that we’ll have the identical alternatives as others.

And we dreamed that perhaps that is the prospect, however issues went past the management of the traditional individuals. We’re the traditional individuals. We’re not the gamers of this sport.

Rosin: “We’re not the gamers of this sport.” That night, we talked some extra. He instructed me about occasions he traveled to Europe to be taught extra about water administration. And he instructed me he wasn’t certain his children would wish to increase their households in Gaza.

After about 20 minutes, I wished to let Marwan get some relaxation. He instructed me he was the one one nonetheless awake in his home. Whereas we had been speaking, his spouse, children, and grandkids had all gone to sleep.

Rosin: Everyone’s sleeping? Simply you’re not sleeping?

Bardawil: Yeah, as a result of sleeping these days, it’s like, when you have got the chance to sleep, you leap to the mattress. Since you don’t know when issues will deteriorate round you—voices and the bombing may very well be shut. Even for those who really feel that you’re far-off from something, the environment, the surroundings round you is horrifying.

Rosin: So that you simply can’t hear something; it’s very quiet, so everybody simply goes to mattress?

Bardawil: Sure, you caught me within the final second earlier than I went to sleep.

Rosin: Okay, Marwan, what? Fall asleep. (Laughs.) I believe perhaps it is best to fall asleep, since you’re additionally sick. Um, so why don’t you fall asleep, and sleep nicely whereas it’s quiet. And if we have to, I’ll name you once more tomorrow.

Bardawil: Yeah, you’re welcome.

Rosin: Okay, thanks a lot, and I hope you relaxation.

Bardawil: You might be welcome. You might be welcome.

Rosin: Okay. Okay, bye.

Bardawil: You might be welcome. Bye-bye.


Rosin: On the time of this recording—Wednesday, November 1—we couldn’t get the most recent water replace from Marwan. Gaza was below one other communications blackout.

This episode was produced by Kevin Townsend, edited by Claudine Ebeid, engineered by Rob Smeirciak, and fact-checked by Sam Fentress. Claudine is the manager producer of Atlantic Audio. Andrea Valdez is our managing editor.

I’m Hanna Rosin. We might be again subsequent week.



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