In Gaza, 1.7 million Palestinians currently live without clean drinking water. With no perennial streams and low rainfall, Gaza relies on a single aquifer for all of its fresh water. The coastal aquifer, Zander Swinburne reported, is contaminated with sewage, chemicals, and seawater. The Palestinian Water Authority recently determined that 95 percent of the water in Gaza does not meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards for human consumption. The polluted water causes chronic health problems and contributing to high rates of child mortality. One study estimated that 26 percent of disease in Gaza results from contaminated water supplies. “A crippling Egyptian-Israeli blockade on Gaza has exacerbated the problem,” Al Jazeera reported.
A recent United Nations report warned that the water situation for Palestinians in Gaza was “critical.” According to that report, “the aquifer could become unusable as early as 2016, with the damage irreversible by 2020.” Even with immediate remedial action, the 2012 report stated, the aquifer will take decades to recover; otherwise it would “take centuries for the aquifer to recover.”
As a result of the contaminated water supply, Al Jazeera reported, the Palestinian Ministry of Health recommends that residents boil water before using it for drinking or cooking. However, residents contend that even with boiling, tap water is “not fit to drink,” and, in many cases, is simply unavailable. According to people in the territory, Zander Swinburne reported, “during the summer months water might spurt out of their taps every other day . . . pressure is often so low that those living on upper floors might see just a trickle.”
Instead, according to United Nations estimates, over 80 percent of Gazans buy their drinking water, with some families paying as much as a third of their household income, according to June Kunugi, a special representative of the UN children’s fund UNICEF. Palestinians purchase more than a quarter of their water from Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, Al Jazeera reported. Mekorot sells Gaza 4.2 million cubic meters of water annually.
Contaminated water also affects agriculture in Gaza. For example, high levels of salinity mean that most citrus crops can no longer be grown.
The Egyptian–Israeli blockade of Gaza intensifies the water problems. Materials needed for repairs of water and waste facilities cannot be imported. Lack of reliable electricity has forced 85 percent of agricultural wells out of operation, contributing to the risk of drought for more than 30,000 square acres of crops.
As B’Tselem—the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories—reported, there is discrimination in water allocation: “Israeli citizens receive much more water than Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Water from shared resources is unequally divided, and in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians have access to only seventy to ninety liters per person per day—less than both the WHO-recommended minimum of one hundred liters per person per day and the average Israeli allocation of 100 to 230 liters per person each day.
Zander Swinburne, “The Water Is Running out in Gaza: Humanitarian Catastrophe Looms as Territory’s Only Aquifer Fails,” Independent, June 30, 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-water-is-running-out-in-gaza-humanitarian-catastrophe-looms-as-territorys-only-aquifer-fails-8679987.html.
Wissam Nassar, “In Pictures: Gaza Water Crisis Worsens,” Al Jazeera, May 12, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/03/pictures-gaza-water-crisis-wors-201432673053211982.html.
“Over 90% of Water in Gaza Unfit for Drinking,” B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), February 9, 2014, http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20140209_gaza_water_crisis.
Student Researcher: Pippa Whelan (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)