Humanitarian agencies warn of imminent water crisis in Gaza

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Palestinian children fill their bottles with drinking water at a groundwater desalination unit in Rafah, south Gaza Strip, on 13 July. Photo: UNICEF/El Baba

Palestinian children fill their bottles with drinking water at a groundwater desalination unit in Rafah, south Gaza Strip, on 13 July. Photo: UNICEF/El Baba

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
About Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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4 Responses

  1. just
    July 23, 2014, 10:01 am

    A terrible, deliberate crisis that Israel created has been made worse by Israel.

    Who will hold them accountable? The same folks who have refused to hold them accountable for anything? Will something change? Will the US wake up and stop working hand in hand with Israel to distribute and contribute to the death, destruction, and misery of the Palestinian people?

    • Kathryn
      July 24, 2014, 1:56 pm

      I agree 1000%. Every attack by Israel on Gaza demolishes critical water supplies.

      Israel is following the example of the US/NATO…. one of the first things they do is to demolish critical infrastructure, creating havoc, fear and despair. Past experience has shown that Gazans will not give up, they are strong.

      As to your questions, while world-wide protests continue to grow, we can only hope that governments will begin to feel the pressure to tell Israel to stop. Unfortunately, they might only listen to the US gvt….and this only if the US says it will stop supplying weapons. However, with great sadness I doubt that will happen.

      There is however a petition circulating for resolution to the UN General Assembly to condemn and call on Israel to stop. This move is being made due to the fact that the Security Council has done nothing. Please sign and share:
      https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_Member_States_of_the_United_Nations_Demand_sanctions_and_an_arms_embargo_on_Israel_to_save_Palestine/?preview=live

  2. HarryLaw
    July 23, 2014, 10:19 am

    EWASH has called on the International community to work with Israel to ensure vital water infrastructure is not targeted. Sorry, Israel deliberately targets water and sewage facilities, it deliberately ignores the the rules of war encapsulated in the Hague and Geneva conventions, it is a law unto itself, therefore the resistance must use all means at its disposal to fight back, sabotage Israeli water and other economic infrastructure, unless there is a cost to Israel, it will not stop the ethnic cleansing and murder.

  3. Kay24
    July 23, 2014, 10:49 am

    Israel has added insult to injury. These poor people were suffering tremendously under a very vicious occupation, and punished for even legally bidding for statehood at the UN, now they are hitting the final nail not the coffin. The UN has declared the Palestinian territories unlivable by 2020, seems the ruthless occupiers are too greedy and impatient, and want to hasten that ugly reality.
    The world must see for themselves, and realize Israelis do not give a damn for non Jews, or the suffering they endure because of their war crimes. We have heard enough of calls for death and destruction from the occupier, full of hate, so what makes anyone think Israel gives a damn about these poor people being without water?
    Meanwhile, the illegal settlers make sure their lawns, on stolen lands, are being watered in a timely manner.

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