While communities in Gaza face myriad development challenges every day, two of the most stubborn but critical to overcome are ensuring sustainable access to clean drinking water and increasing the availability of jobs for the large youth population, especially young women.  Coinciding with the inauguration of Coca-Cola’s first-ever bottling plant in Gaza, The Coca-Cola Foundation, NBC and global organization Mercy Corps unveiled a new US$1.3 million charitable initiative designed to help tackle these areas.  The new community investment builds on Coca-Cola’s 2014 support of Mercy Corps’ provision of clean water to Gaza.

The new ‘Empowering Sustainable Communities in Gaza’ initiative sets a bold ambition to reach 30,000 Gazan beneficiaries within the next three years.  Efforts will focus on two flagship programs that will bring fresh water to families in a refugee camp, and help unemployed male and female youth to engage in Gaza’s growing ICT sector through online freelancing opportunities.  The program will be implemented by Mercy Corps which brings over 30 years of experience in supporting Palestinian communities and in 2014 provided essential food, water and supplies to over 250,000 Gazans.

Sustainable, safe water access

Water access remains an enduring challenge for many of the 1.8 million people that live in Gaza.  96% of Gaza’s groundwater aquifers are not suitable for consumption, and without regular access to water, 60% of Gaza’s population relies on private water suppliers.  The new charitable initiative will specifically focus on ensuring sustainable and safe water access for a refugee community in great need.  Vulnerable families in the Al Maghazi Refugee Camp will be supplied with safe water through construction of a desalination plant in a local area.  Mercy Corps will undertake this work with the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) and the Palestinian Water Authority and aim to ensuring sustainable clean water access for the 24,000 people that reside in the camp through a project that will be then be maintained by CMWU upon completion.  This part of the program also contributes to fulfilling the Coca-Cola’s global commitment to replenish back to communities 100% of the water used producing its beverages.

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Connected youth

Despite improving education, unemployment for youth from 20-24 years old in Gaza stands at over 66%, one of the highest levels in the world and is a direct barrier to economic and social progress.  The new initiative will aim to harness Gaza’s growing ICT sector to support young Palestinians and create an important long-term avenue for economic growth, job creation and income opportunities. Over 7,000 young people will have the opportunity to learn about online freelancing opportunities and to connect with Mercy Corps’ Gaza Sky Geeks initiative, which is Gaza’s first start-up accelerator.  The combination of technical training, tailored mentorship support, opportunities for networking and links to real economic opportunities is designed to help overcome some of the barriers that exist.

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Speaking on thenew initiative, Paul Dudley-Hart, Senior Vice President, Mercy Corps, said, “While Gazan communities and people face many challenges, there is also great hope through an ambitious and aspirational youth population who want to play a part in Gaza’s economic and social progress.  The Empowering Sustainable Communities in Gaza initiative will play an important part in that journey over the next three years and we have every confidence that by addressing both humanitarian and sustainable development challenges together, we can create a brighter future for vulnerable people within Gaza.”