Holy Water

March 15 2020 | by

MARY, an elderly woman who lives by herself in Grotto Street, a very old part of the city of Bethlehem, still works to support herself despite her old age and knee problems. She has nobody to help her financially. She had a very old rusty water tank which provided rust-tainted undrinkable water. Thanks to a project funded in part by St Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, Mary, and many others like her in Bethlehem, now have new, bigger water tanks providing them with hygienic drinkable water.

Bethlehem lies just over six miles south of Jerusalem in the Palestinian Territories. It is home to around 25,000 people, the majority of whom are Muslim, but there is also a significant Palestinian Christian community. Due to continuing tensions between Israel and Palestine and the continuing conflict, which only worsened after the decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the tourism industry is much reduced, which in turn prevents the local economy from stabilising. Many fundamental resources, such as education, water, medicines and hospital services are in short supply or available only at exorbitant prices. There is no social welfare system here – no health insurance, unemployment benefit, pensions, nor family allowance or maternity benefits. Those who are not self-sufficient must fend for themselves. Inevitably, this situation hits the most vulnerable in society – young children, and the elderly – the hardest.


Unsanitary water


Limited access to water is a result of a combination of at least two factors: the inefficiency of the city’s water service, and the fact that management of the water network is in the hands of the occupying force. Water arrives once every 25-30 days, and is collected and stored by the families who live here, but existing containment capacities are insufficient to meet daily needs and many share water tanks. The Palestinians are very dependent on this water as they are not permitted to dig wells beyond a certain depth nor build aqueducts without a permit from Israel, and extraction of water from the ground is restricted. They consequently use a secondary, obsolete water network which is irreparably polluted. When water does not arrive at the houses it is transported in tankers in order to fill water tanks, but this is expensive and beyond the reach of many poorer families. Due to these water restrictions many people live in precarious sanitary and hygienic conditions – over 40 percent of children suffer from chronic diarrhoea or other diseases related to the lack of water and unhygienic conditions. The scarcity of water damages the Palestinian economy as the ability to irrigate crops is also limited, which reduces the quality of agricultural products.


Dwindling Christianity


The Holy Land is, of course, the cradle of Christianity, yet the presence of Christians in the Middle East is endangered by the political and economic dynamics affecting the region. In 1948 Christians made up about ten percent of the Palestinian population, but today it is only around two percent. This is a reflection of not only the population growth amongst Jews and Muslims, but also the emigration of Christians to other countries in search of security and a better future.

Association pro Terra Sancta (ATS), with its mission to promote bonds between the Holy Land and the rest of the world, proposed a project to St Anthony’s Charities to assist and strengthen the Christian community in Bethlehem. The goal was to guarantee and improve access to the water supply to the Christian families most in need – most of whom live in the old city and in particular along Star Street, which according to tradition was the street followed by Mary and Joseph in search of accommodation, and then subsequently by the magi. ATS is no stranger to St Anthony’s Charities, which has supported several successful projects coordinated by ATS in the Holy Land over the course of more than ten years.


€20,000 granted


The proposal was to replace damaged and rusty water tanks with new more functional ones, and also to ensure hot water by installing boilers and solar panels. Three phases were envisaged: First, to carry out an inspection to select a number of houses in the centre of Bethlehem and to verify the needs of the families who live there. Second, to request a quote from a local plumber after a technical inspection. Third, to dismantle old tanks, replace them, and install boilers and/or solar panels where required. A sum of €20,000 was requested by ATS toward the total cost of €55,000 – the remainder being provided directly by ATS – and this was approved by St Anthony’s Charities at the beginning of 2019.

With the target families all living within the old city, a number of difficulties were encountered during implementation. The roofs of the old houses were not very accessible, and it was difficult to transport and lift materials in the very narrow streets. Bad weather during the winter and spring also provided few opportunities to work outdoor on the roofs. Finally, the non-continuous nature of the water supply further constrained the number of days available to work each month, to ensure that families would not be out of water for longer than necessary when the water tanks were changed. In spite of these problems, the project was successfully completed in September 2019 with around 80 beneficiary families. Through the installation of these new water tanks, solar panels and boilers, the families now have access to clean water. This has improved their living, hygiene and health conditions, and additionally has saved on electricity costs.


Sincere gratitude


Tarek, one of the beneficiaries, lives a very simple life with his wife and five children in their own house which has two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Tarek, the only breadwinner, earns barely enough to fulfil the basic needs of the family. The family’s solar panels were rusty and no longer heated water. The project provided them with new solar panels.

Another beneficiary, Elen, a retired private school teacher supporting herself, wrote to express her thanks for the replacement of her rusty water tanks: “I am from Bethlehem, Palestine. Please accept my sincere gratitude for your help. I am grateful for your generosity for changing the old and damaged water tanks for new ones,” she wrote. “You have been extremely supportive through this difficult time. And I want to thank you all: donors, priests, employees and workers, ATS, St Anthony’s Charities and readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony for your efforts. May God bless you all.”

“Thanks to this project and your support once again, we have managed to reach many needy families who live in the Bethlehem area,” concludes Vincenzo Bellomo, project coordinator. “The problem of water distribution and use continues to be a priority and an emergency for all our families. We always take you with us to the Sacred Grotto of Bethlehem, for everything you do for the poor all over the world, and we hope to see you soon in the Holy Land!”

Updated on March 15 2020