The Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene (EWASH) is a group of 30 humanitarian agencies working together to coordinate interventions, respond to needs, share information and do advocacy on the water and sanitation sector in the occupied territories. They sent out the following advisory this morning on the dire water situation in Gaza. Visit www.ewash.org for more information.
Since the start of the Israeli assault on Gaza on 8 July 2014, the water and wastewater infrastructure in Gaza has been heavily affected by Israeli airstrikes. Main water supply and wastewater infrastructure has been hit and as a result the water supply or sewage services to 1.2 million (2/3 of the total population in Gaza) have been cut or severely disrupted. The targeting of civilian objects under situation of hostilities is prohibited according to International Humanitarian Law and is considered a war crime.
Damages to main water pipelines and a water reservoir affect the population across the Gaza Strip and house connections are damaged as a result of air raids on homes in the area. Sewage pipelines, a wastewater treatment plant and sewage pumping stations were hit, which has caused sewage flooding in some areas. A lack of electricity and fuel exacerbates the situation, disabling desalination and wastewater treatment plants, pumping stations at water wells and sewage pumping stations, hampering water provision and sewage collection and treatment. The lack of access to clean drinking water, shortage of water for sanitation as well as major damages to sewage systems pose risk of water-borne diseases and related health issues.
Service providers are unable to carry out repairs and conduct routine field operations after 4 water technicians have been killed by airstrikes. Water tankering, on which the majority of the population relies, is compromised due to these security risks. The impact on water and wastewater infrastructure reaches far beyond the areas directly affected by airstrikes.
Some communities have completely lost access to water and storage. Damage to sewage networks and subsequent sewage flooding lead to increased risk of drinking water contamination through seeping into the groundwater, wells and the water network. The displacement of hundreds of thousands of people poses further challenges to water providers. Further and continued disruption to WASH services will expose the people in Gaza Strip to important health risk.
Prior to the current escalation, Gaza already suffered from a water crisis, with limited availability of water resources, fuel and the Israeli imposed blockade since 2007. The only water resource for Gaza is the coastal aquifer, which according to the UN may become unusable by 2016 due to over-abstraction. Over 90% of the water extracted from the Coastal Aquifer is salty and unsafe for human consumption, only 15-25% of households receive running water every day and 75-90% of Palestinians in Gaza depend on private water vendors for tankered drinking water supplies. 90 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean every day, as construction projects for essential infrastructure are on hold due to Israeli restrictions on the entry of construction materials. As a result, Gaza is suffering from heavy environmental pollution and public health risk.
EWASH calls for an immediate stop of this assault and call upon all parties to abide by the rules of international humanitarian law especially those related to the protection of civilians as well as water and wastewater infrastructure, service providers and their employees from any harm.
EWASH calls upon the International Community:
- To work effectively with the government of Israel, to ensure that civilian and specifically water and wastewater infrastructure is not targeted and that protection is guaranteed for service providers, water vendors and related personnel in order to allow vital operation and repair of critical WASH facilities.
- To ensure a sustainable solution to the water crisis in Gaza, by holding Israel, the occupying power in the oPt with the primary responsibility to ensure the welfare of the protected Palestinian population, accountable.
- To put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade, to allow the entry of vital construction materials for water infrastructure as well as to allow a sustainable and sufficient provision of electricity and fuel, to enable pumps for water and sewage to operate