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Water crisis deepens in the Gaza Strip

09-11-2015 05:22

Source: Al Jazeera



After an unseasonably warm October, one would expect the cool rainfall of autumn to be welcomed in the Gaza Strip.

But the downpours only make life harder, as excess rainwater springs from roads, sidewalks, and courtyards.

The territory's water infrastructure has shuddered under the burden of an almost decade-long Israeli-Egyptian siege. Three major Israeli wars on Gaza since 2008 have only exacerbated the problem, with jets bombing every square kilometre of the strip, inflicting damage onto reservoirs above and pipelines below the ground.

According to Ghada al-Najjar - who is the water and sanitation coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a nongovernmental organisation headed by Jan Egeland, one of the facilitators of the Oslo Accords - international humanitarian law (IHL) states that civilian infrastructure, especially infrastructure needed for basic survival, such as reservoirs, should be specially protected.


Yet, this does not seem to be the case. An NRC report from this year says that in 2014, Israel's war on Gaza resulted in $34m in damages to Gaza's water infrastructure.

Although Israel no longer views itself as the occupying force in the Gaza Strip after it officially withdrew its settlers and military forces in 2005, many agencies, including the UN Human Rights Council, consider that, under IHL, Israel still retains obligations towards the whole occupied territory.

In March, Israel began delivering an extra five million cubic metres (mcm) of water to Gaza, thereby doubling the amount that was previously delivered and, hence, honouring Article 40 of the Oslo II Accords, an interim agreement signed in 1995 meant to impose a final status for Israel and Palestine.

However, the al-Muntar reservoir that was constructed to receive the increase was completely destroyed by Israel in 2014. In lieu of an acceptable reservoir, the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) began to receive the water through temporary measures.

After less than a month of increased Israeli water delivery, readings from Israeli and Palestinian water metres showed a disparity of 4,000cm - a huge shortfall between the amount the Israelis sent and the total delivered to Gaza, proving that Gaza's water network was unprepared for even a minor increase.

"What is the plan to rebuild the water infrastructure there? Are the materials able to enter through the blockade, and are there funds coming in?" Ghada asked. While the five mcm is a positive step, "it should be stated that Gaza is paying for this water ... and it's a small amount" of Gaza's total need of 200 mcm.

There is only one extractable water source for the 1.8 million Palestinians in the Strip, the Coastal Aquifer Basin. Only five percent of this water is potable, according to a July United Nations report.


Yunes Mogheir, associate professor of water and environmental engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza, told Al Jazeera that one of the main reasons for the water's poor quality is the "huge increase in rates of chloride and nitrates". These pollutants are used to measure how drinkable Gaza's water is.

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