By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
During the last few months in Gaza Strip the drinking and wastewater crisis has been exacerbated due to political and moral reasons related primarily to the Israeli occupation and secondly to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. We can say that the organized and deliberate disruption and destruction of the daily lives of people in Gaza is ongoing and aggravating.
Reducing the amount of electricity supplied to Gaza has been in effect for a few months, which led to catastrophic consequences such as wastewater treatment stations that were left completely unoperational. Thus, more than 110 million liters (110,000 m3) of untreated wastewater flows daily to the shores of Gaza causing terrible seawater pollution. Wastewater also runs in the valleys of Gaza, thus penetrating the land and contaminating the groundwater source of the Palestinian coast that passes through the southern area of Gaza Strip. This groundwater is the main source of drinking water for the residents of Gaza.
The daily flow of huge amounts of wastewater into Gaza Sea is one of the indicators of a bigger and continuing crisis presented mainly by the Israeli siege imposed on the residents of Gaza for more than ten years with official Egyptian complicity. This brutal siege forced the people to rely heavily on agriculture as their source of living. In order to ensure the continuity of crop cultivation, the groundwater pumping has greatly increased, leading to a decline in the groundwater level and to an increase of the intrusion of the salty seawater into the groundwater, which eventually lead to an increase in the salinity of drinking water. In addition that the inability to rehabilitate the sewage water infrastructure has greatly contributed to an increase in groundwater pollution.
Currently, the amount of water withdrawn from groundwater reserves is more than twice the amount feeding these reserves (feeding from rainwater intrusion into the ground). In addition, water recharge is declining due to the urbanization of Gaza caused by the large population growth in a very small geographical area (365 km2), thus decreasing the area for rainwater to leak down into the ground.
The hydrological maps of chloride salts (Cl) and nitrates / NO3 concentration (nitrogen compounds, especially NO3 indicating chemical contamination) in Gaza’s groundwater indicate a terrifying water situation. In the vast majority of water wells, the concentration of these salts exceeds the permissible levels in drinking water (the maps are published with this article).
As presented by the hydrological maps, the concentration of nitrates in most areas of Gaza has reached more than 50 mg/l, and in many areas the concentration exceeds 150 mg/l; and sometimes it reaches between 200 and 500 mg/l and above! The World Health Organization (WHO) standards determine the maximum allowed concentration of nitrates at less than 50 mg/l. adding that the concentration of chloride in most areas of Gaza is higher than 250 mg/l, in many areas it exceeds 1500 mg/l and other areas it reaches more than 2000 mg/l! When WHO standards set the maximum allowed concentration of chloride at less than 250 mg/l.
Unfortunately, the Gaza residents have no choice but to drink contaminated water, which has actually worsened in the recent months due to the flow of huge amounts of wastewater. As the current situation continues, the spread of diseases will inevitably increase by drinking and handling contaminated water.
There is no doubt that the Israeli occupation bears the greatest responsibility for the deterioration of the disastrous water situation in Gaza, as Israel is the main supplier of water and electricity and has total control over land borders and marine spaces. However, Israel is not the sole responsible for the current dangerous water situation in Gaza. In fact, the inability of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Gaza to manage the existing infrastructure and the division and disagreement between the authorities of Ramallah and Gaza are aggravating the situation. It has become known that the current electricity and water crisis in Gaza has worsened in the past months due to the reduction in the amount of electricity supplied by Israel after the request of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah in order to pressure the authority of Hamas. This was achieved by reducing the amounts of payments paid by the Palestinian Authority to Israel in return for providing electricity.
Moreover, the Israeli authorities deliberately obstruct the approval of the construction of an additional electricity supply line needed specifically for the purpose of operating the water purification station in the northern Gaza Strip. In fact, the freshwater and wastewater crisis is an existential threat to all residents of the Gaza Strip. The water crisis in Gaza can be solved by developing a water infrastructure connecting Gaza with other parts of Palestine, or at least with the rich groundwater wells in the West Bank. A water line between the West Bank and Gaza can be extended to supply Gaza with large amounts of water to cover the dangerous and increasing water deficit caused by the growing population.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh