World Water Day: Thirsty Gaza residents battle salt, sewage
Untreated pools of sewage, some as large as 100 acres, seep back into the sole aquifer that provides freshwater for Gaza’s 1.5 million people. Aid workers are looking at new ways to replenish the aquifer, this World Water Day.
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How Gaza residents are coping
Many of the enclave’s residents, however, are finding ways to cope, says the head of the government-run Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), Ibrahim Alejla.Skip to next paragraph
According to Mr. Alejla, those that can afford it are purchasing locally bottled water or installing filters and small desalinization units at home. Others travel far distances, often on rudimentary mule-drawn carts, to fetch cleaner, safer water from wells outside their villages.
Israel in January also approved the import of its own bottled water. Mineral water bottled locally in Gaza, according to the UNEP, contains “dangerous and volatile compounds.”
But Mr. Beytrison of the ICRC says none of these coping mechanisms can be viewed as acceptable solutions to Gaza’s growing water crisis.
“In the long-term, these minor ways of dealing with things, they are nothing,” he says. “They are like drops of water in the ocean.”
A new plan to resolve the crisis
Mr. Beytrison says the ICRC is looking at new ways to replenish Gaza’s aquifer, including the construction of a treated sewage lagoon that would allow the filtered water to seep back into the ground. He says right now a small number of Gaza farmers are diverting the treated sewage water from the ICRC’s two wastewater plants in the southern strip towns of Rafah and Khan Younis, rather than digging private wells that only access the contaminated aquifer.
Thummakudury says the only real solution for Gaza’s water woes is to “develop an alternative water supply” in order to allow the territory’s aquifer to rest and replenish.
He proposes the construction of a massive desalinization plant that, along with sewage repair and environmental clean-up over the next twenty years, would cost international donors some $1.2 billion “if the political will is there.”
Water pipe from Israel to Gaza never completed
Under the Oslo Accords, a declaration of principles signed by both Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1995, Israel is required to provide the Gaza Strip with five cubic meters, approximately 1,300 gallons, of desalinized drinking water each year.
But the Palestinian Authority (PA) never completed the construction of the pipe on the Gaza side of the border, citing the outbreak of the second intifada (uprising) and subsequent closure of Gaza.
And while the Oslo Accords also state that Gaza and the West Bank are one territorial entity, and that water is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA), there are no provisions for shared water between the two Palestinian enclaves.
Gaza and the West Bank are now divided both geographically and politically between the US-backed PA in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Martha Myer, the Israel-Palestine country director for CARE International, a US-based development organization that carries out water and sanitation projects in the Gaza Strip, says the poor state of Gaza’s water needs to be viewed in a wider regional and even decades-long context.
“As the population increases and infrastructure keeps collapsing,” she says, “we – the international community and Gaza’s neighbors – need to be cognizant of the fact that, ecologically, Gaza is simply not sustainable.”