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Israeli attacks have worsened water systems in Gaza

Israeli attacks have worsened water systems in Gaza

A child is filling jerry cans from a public water supply tap in Gaza, June 2014. © EWN

08 August 2014

*By Dinesh Suna

The recent military strikes by Israel have crippled an already grim water distribution system in Gaza. Several reports from media and international organizations have confirmed targeted attacks on water distribution systems. Due to these attacks, a large number of people in Gaza have been directly affected.

Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in occupied Palestinian territory (EWASH – OPT), partner of the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has recently published an article on this issue by Mohammed Omer. The article quotes Saed al-Din Atbash, head of the water facilities at Gaza Municipality, saying that the wells and pipelines in Gaza were deliberately attacked.

“Warplanes have targeted two wells directly, one near to al-Maqwsi area, a densely populated zone with residential tower blocks, and another in al-Zaytoun; both wells are used by 7,000 inhabitants,” Atbash said.

Israeli warplanes have also targeted five water pipelines that supply large numbers of Gazans. With each line providing water to 20,000 inhabitants, as many as 100,000 people could be affected by the attacks, the article states.

Atbash said repairs to the water line will require a period of calm and, until then, about 70,000 residents will be deprived of water in the refugee camps.

“Under international law, the targeting of civilian water supplies is classified as a war crime,” Atbash said. “The Israeli occupation’s fighter-jets targeted a sewage-station holding 25,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage, pumped in from four areas daily.”

Water-stressed Gaza

With over 1.8 million people in an area of 360 square kilometres, the densely populated Gaza Strip depends entirely on a single aquifer to meet their water needs. Due to excessive use of the aquifer, it has been contaminated and is irreversibly damaged.

“It will be rendered useless in about 6 years’ time. Ninety-five percent of groundwater is unusable because of the intrusion of sea water. There is microbial contamination of over 80 percent of drinking water in Gaza”, Dr Monther Shoblak of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) told members of the International Reference Group of the EWN during a visit to Gaza in June.

To meet the high demand for water, the PWA runs several desalination plants to treat sea water for drinking purposes. However, due to “excessive control of Israel over maintenance, sourcing spare parts and setting up new plants, and lack of adequate electricity and fuel, these desalination plants cannot cater to the demands. People have to depend on the private vendors to buy drinking water. With many depending on social security schemes (750 shekels or 250 US dollars per family for 3 months), some people spend up to two-thirds of their income in buying water,” Shoblak added.

Damage to water and sanitation facilities

A report from EWASH describes the scale of damage done to water and sanitation facilities in Gaza.

The situation was also observed by the International Reference Group of the EWN, who visited Gaza, Jerusalem and West Bank in early June before the recent violence. The group interacted with the Palestinian water authorities and visited water treatment facilities in Gaza, discussing the problems of water scarcity with the locals.

A statement published by the EWN expresses solidarity with the churches and people in the region, while stressing the need to address the issues of water and sanitation.

The water-stressed region of Gaza desperately needs rebuilding of infrastructure for adequate water supply and waste-water treatment. However, unless the war comes to a halt, achieving the human right to water and sanitation under these circumstances will remain a farfetched dream.

*Dinesh Suna is coordinator of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network.

Exposure to the water situation in Gaza

EWN statement: Water Crisis in Palestine

Equitable distribution of water is a key issue in West Bank and Gaza (WCC news release of 18 June 2014)

More information: Ecumenical Water Network