CMEP Bulletin: Lack of Clean Water in Gaza Reduces Quality of Life
Weekly update from Churches for Middle East Peace
The United Nations predicts an underground reservoir used by locals will become unusable by 2016 leaving residents of the Gaza Strip without a single water supply. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem also confront daily challenges in accessing water. Due to a lack of urban development plans, hundreds of apartments in the area have been built without permits prohibiting them from being legally connected to the water supply and sanitation systems. The water infrastructure could “adequately provide for the consumption needs of 15,000 people, while the local population numbers 60,000 to 80,000.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) standards stipulate that a minimum of 100 liters of water be allocated for a single person on a daily basis. The average water intake for Israelis is 183 liters per day, 73 liters for Palestinians connected to the water grid, and 20-50 liters for Palestinians not connected to the water grid. Gaza’s primary water source is the coastal aquifer which has been over-pumped for decades. Currently the Palestinian Water Authority pumps 180 cubic meter (mcm) a year from the aquifer, while its replenishment rate is only 50-60 mcm per year. At the current rate of pumping the aquifer is unable to naturally replenish itself and may have passed the point of return in terms of rehabilitation.
During the Gaza War 11 wells and two purification plants were completely destroyed with an additional 15 wells and four purification plants severely damaged. In addition, twenty-nine kilometers (18 miles) of pipeline was destroyed and another 17 kilometers was damaged. As a result, wastewater treatment plants are unable to function properly and approximately half of the water system in non-functional. Functional parts of the water system receive water once every five days. 90-95 percent of the remaining water is unfit for drinking or agricultural use due to high counts of nitrogen and chloride. Nitrogen is present due to agricultural run off from pesticide use and sewage seepage into the aquifer chloride is the direct result of salination.Instances of skin disease including infections and illnesses targeting children are rising due to prolonged use of contaminated drinking water.
Haim Gvirtzman, a member of the Israeli Water Council and advisor to the Israel- PA Joint Water Committee has said that, “[the] Palestinian Authority is using water as a weapon against the State of Israel. It is more interested in reducing the amount of water available to Israel, polluting natural reservoirs, harming Israeli farmers, and sullying Israel’s reputation around the world than truly solving water problems for the Palestinian people.” Fieldwork reports by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) state that, “After being hit several times, the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) was shut down on July 29… Even in areas where service has resumed, outages exceed 18 hours per day, severely disrupting the provision of basic services including health and water throughout Gaza.”
Opposing explanations of the water crisis have made revisions and repairs difficult to manage. While the Gaza Donor Conference was able to plan a budget and collect money from donors, actions have yet to be executed.