By Nick Lillard.
The fate of Gaza’s finite water supply:
1- Water for agriculture:
There are plans for developing a more cohesive strategy concerning production of food while using water that’s not optimal for potable use.
2- A brief description of the Gaza strip:
Includes a general portrayal of the landscape and surroundings, as well as complexities created by the siege.
3- The population increase:
Due to forced migration of refugees, the depletion of fresh water of the western aquifer has intensified.
4- Ways to acquire potable water:
Outlines the difficulties of desalination and attempts to attain fresh water from outside the strip.
The water that’s being used is highly contaminated due to infrastructural issues that have been created by bombings. Furthermore the regions soil tends to be highly porous, meaning that infiltration happens quickly.
6- Stolen resources:
Provides a historic perspective on the depletion of water in the Gaza strip.
7- Attempting to build:
Projects to build desalination and waste water treatment plants are underway, but it may be too little to late.
8- Committees, corporations, authorities and military might:
Covers the obstinance and rejections that encircle the water issue in Palestine.
9- Water born disease:
Touches upon the basic features of disease in Gaza related to water which especially afflict children.
-Water for agriculture
“Do you see those rotten posts in the water next to the coast? That was a harbor, from there I had an apple from Lebonon” said Ghassan Qishawi. He’s an expert on water sanitation and desalination.
Ghassan consults companies and governments about the water situation in his place of origin, that being the Gaza strip. On April 25th he visited with me so that I could convey an updated picture of not only what’s happening with his field of study in Palestine, but more importantly what could ensue if intelligent steps aren’t taken immediately to minimize the encroaching dangers to Gaza via lack of resources.
The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) has a multitude of reports that analyze comparative optional proposals for properly treating waste water. http://www.pwa.ps/
However their plans for waste waster treatment and fresh water renewal have only been met with minimal investments. In fact less than 2 percent of the needed funding has come through for these programs.
- World Bank
Currently high nitrogen levels far exceed World Health Organization standards (50 mg/litre) along with other chemicals such as chloride in extremely abstracted areas. This is especially the case near the coast, in some spots chloride levels are as high as 10,000 mg/Liter. -CMWU
The chemical pollutants are on average “three times higher than the recommended level by the World Health Organization.”
Chloride levels are indicative of the amount of salinity within water, which is a major factor in preventing Gaza residents from being able to drink 90 percent of the tap water.
- UN 2020
“NO3 levels for water in Palestine range from 400 mg/litre to 70 mg/litre. In Gaza 70 mg/litre is deemed acceptable since it’s so common.” Ghassan reluctantly stated.
However the PWA wishes to use waste water’s high nitrogen content to the advantage of the agricultural sector. Ideally it will supply treated water to farmers at a cheap price so that the use of illegally drilled wells will halt.
“There’s no way of knowing how many illegal wells have been dug since most of them are merely 2 to 3 meters deep and are used as supplemental sources of water for washing clothes, dishes, the floor, etc. Our rough estimates are that there are three to five thousand illegal wells within the bounds of Gaza.” Ghassan explained.
This poor handling of water is due to the last few years of Gaza’s sputtering economy. Which has in turn coaxed more residents to grow their own food.
Farming in Gaza is by en large a collection of family operations that grow vegetables for market in sections of 5 to 10 dunams each.
As of last September, produce bought and sold in Gaza is almost entirely from within its borders.
Yet the loose organizational decisions of such small family enterprises has disadvantages that drive the price of produce down excessively when too much of one crop is being grown. The lack of broad cooperation as to who grows what might not be such a major factor elsewhere, but with Gaza’s limited space it means prices drastically spike and dive for individual families. Planting is thus a gamble as far as predicting what price products will fetch in markets.
These inefficiencies are a byproduct of an economy dealing with rapidly changing perimeters.
-A brief description of Gaza strip:
Desertification is expanding in the south, the Israeli navy won’t allow for fishing or trade in the west.
Prices for goods coming through the tunnels on the Egyptian side are marked way up.
Ranging in width from six to twelve kilometers and having a length of over 40 kilometers means that calling it a strip is indeed appropriate. Despite its size there’s a relatively diverse landscape that ranges from sand-dunes near the arid Mediterranean coast to lush green fields further inland. When combined with architectural features that similarly contrast, such as tight mazes of exterior concrete corridors that abruptly meet spacious homes standing alone in a field; Gaza visually conveys a semblance of the complexities that are under its surface.
Approximately 380 square kilometers creates Gaza. Although the apparent 300 meters in length of ground between it and the Israeli army on the northern and eastern borders lessen the amount of usable land by a considerable measure.
This is especially problematic since most of what’s deemed by the Israeli military as the buffer zone could be utilized as farmland. In fact 17 to 35 percent of the fertile soil (depending on what’s considered arable land) in the Gaza strip can’t be safely approached by Palestinians, let alone cultivated.
- The population Increase
Gaza has an average density of nearly 12,000 people per square mile. It has the seventh fastest population growth rate in the world. This increase of people taxes the already stretched resources. In fact conversations about the essential substance in question are centered around one word, crisis.
Fresh water consumption is predicted to increase by 60 percent based on the amount of abstraction taking place currently, combined with the expected population increase. It’s estimated that 260 MCM of consumable water will be needed by the year 2020.
A majority of the Palestinians in Gaza come from families who were forced from their homes during the Nakba. They became refugees within the confines of Gaza’s borders. There’s no doubt that what has become 1.7 million people in such a small place creates a heavy toll on the environment, which in turn effects local life in all forms.
Rate of abstraction based on numbers from 2007: “…163 million cubic metres per year (CMWU, 2008).” This suggests that fresh water is rapidly decreasing in areas with the greatest use. Thus potable water is being replaced by seawater from the Mediterranean. -UNEP
This increase in the aquifers salinity has entered the water cycle indefinitely for the sewage has in turn become more saline.
Basic math can illustrate the reason for concern, even if the water’s salinity is not considered. The abstraction from the aquifer on a yearly basis is now estimated to be 170 million cubic meters (MCM) per year. The average yearly regeneration of the aquifer is roughly 55 million cubic meters per year. -PCHR
This means the abstraction of water from the aquifer is about three times what it should be if sustainability of this precious resource were to be achieved.
-Ways to acquire potable water:
The question is; what other choice do people have?
If continuing to abstract from the aquifer is decided upon then desalinating brackish water, which lies on the limestone base of the aquifer, has roughly half the concentration of saline compared to seawater. This means it’s easier to convert into fresh water, hence less expensive. -GETAP
“Using brackish water is more achievable. Based upon people’s average income the price for such water could be reasonably low.”
Yet if brackish water is used that means more water is pulled from the aquifer, hence its ability to regenerate is stifled and the long term damage to its ability to eventually provide fresh water will become an impossibility. However finding water close to Gaza is important so that subsidies are not needed in order for people to purchase it. Water within close proximity that would be affordable resides in two aquifers. One being to the east in historic Palestine and the other being the highly disputed western aquifer.
A significant amount of the second water system is within the bounds of Gaza. In addition Lake Tiberias’ water enters the coastal aquifer basin that’s outside of Gaza, yet this water could be a key supplemental source for the thirsty strip with negligible loss on the Israeli side. The Israel National Water Carrier is capable of providing water from this source.”The principles of customary international water law – which binds all States, whether or not they have signed specific conventions – support a case that the Gaza population should receive a much higher volume of fresh water from the resources shared with Israel.” -GETAP
Based on numbers from 2009
Palestine receives, along with Jordan, slightly over 5 percent from the confiscated water that the Zionist government has at its disposal. This is even below the amount of water that Israeli industry uses.
800,000 MCM of groundwater is used on a yearly basis for Israelis, but 1,000,000 MCM is available for consumption. This is an adequate supply of water for use in Gaza and the rest of the region annually. -grassroots international
“One of my colleagues joked that he knows how to fix Palestine’s water problem, he said all it needs is a river.” Ghassan chuckled while relaying this to me, for he realizes that many people do not understand that flowing water in this regard is simply not normally found on Palestine’s landscape anymore.
In fact the closest to such a feature in Gaza is the Wadi basin, which would naturally deposit a highly fluctuating amount of water from much of historic Palestine to the Mediterranean sea, but currently it amounts to an open cesspit. This is directly the cause of the trapping of water further up stream.
“Most notably the Israeli reservoirs trap the flow of water from going south-west to Gaza. Water trickles towards Gaza when there’s an overflow.” Ghassan described.
KKL-JNF (Keren Kayemeth Leisrael- Jewish National Fund)
has 220 reservoirs, 40 of these were made for the sole purpose of trapping floodwaters from all over the country. – KKL- JNF
The reservoir building company considers water from aquifers as there for the taking in every regard. Claiming the aquifers contents “remains stored naturally and is pumped from wells and springs.” -KKl-JNF
Vastly for Israeli usage is the vital part they tactically left out.
Wadi is no longer in contention to be a natural refuge as it was intended. It’s filled with untreated sewage and solid waste. When on the newly reconstructed Wadi bridge a pungent and foul smell is inescapable. They’re building a system of controlled flood plains that will hopefully provide some level of relief from the toxic expulsion of mostly raw sewage into the sea.
The specific reasons for how it got this way are complex, but the origination of what has stifled the natural flow in this area simply point toward the apartheid system. A direct result of the racism that plagues this region is the decline in waste management at Wadi. It has been damaged by a barrage of unfortunate circumstances, including bombs.
“…When the Israelis bombed a bridge between the two areas, they destroyed a water pipe underneath it.” -ingaza
Not just one or two sanitation pipes were accidentally hit, wastewater management facilities were directly targeted.
“The station (that was destroyed) was…”"…designed to pump waste water to Gaza’s main waste water treatment plant.”
The Israeli military has wreaked havoc on all branches of Palestinian civil society’s infrastructure.
“… anaerobic pond no. 3 was damaged, its embankment destroyed, and more than 100,000 m3 of wastewater and sludge spilled”…”UNDP estimated that 55,000 square metres of agricultural land were impacted by this spill.” -UNEP
“According to the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, 30 kilometers of water networks, 11 wells, and 6,000 home water tanks were damaged during the operation, (Operation Cast Lead).” -b’tsalem
“…severe damage, from Beit Hanoun to Rafah, includes underground piping blasted apart by Israeli bombings of civilian streets, homes and in open areas..” “In Khan Younis, Israeli attacks damaged a storage facility holding 350,000 liters of water, as well as a major line in the Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis..” -electric intifada -without power
Bombings such as Operation Cast Lead solidified the deterioration of the fresh and waste water systems.
It’s no surprise that the ability to handle waste during this time “declined from 89 percent in 2007 to 73 percent in 2008.” -UNEP
The Gaza war (Operation Cast Lead) ended January 18th
of 2009. As is always the case in such instances, reconstruction takes much longer than the process of destruction, and in the case of Gaza’s infrastructure it has yet to fully recover.
The wars conducted by the Zionist regime since withdrawing the illegal settlers from Gaza in 2004 have obviously further crippled every aspect of life in the strip. Yet there’s no doubt the illegal settlements used Gaza’s land intensively, hence they stole water. Once the Zionists military seized the area in 1967 the depletion of natural resources increased even more rapidly. By the 90′s illegal Israeli settlers were estimated to “…extract about 3 million cubic metres of water per year (92 percent for agriculture). ” -UNEP
“Many settlements are chosen based upon where it’s best to infiltrate the aquifer.” replied Ghassan once I verbalized UNEP’s quote about illegal settlers water usage. The same tactics are used with all natural resources, especially with oil and natural gas.
Ghassan accepted that there was a lack of institutional development and capacity on the Palestinian side, but he said the Palestinians were caught in an unequal, asymmetric dispute. For example, Palestinians have not been allowed to develop any new production wells in the West Bank since the 1967 war.
Ghassan and I got up to view the natural gas rigs in the distance, a relatively new feature on the waters off the shared coast.
“You see the far rig is just barely on the Israeli side, it pulls natural gas from underneath Palestinian waters.”
However that’s not the most obvious confiscation of natural gas. The smaller one to the south that can’t be contested as being in Palestinian waters was built by the British Gas Group. It was intended to be utilized by Palestine and Israel, along with the BG Group that discovered the resource and built the rig taking a significant percentage of the earnings. -BG Group
Palestine and Israel were to share the immense wealth created by the natural gas rigs off the shore of Gaza. The actual operation of the rigs was supposed to be orchestrated by the Palestinians, and Palestine was to receive an immense amount of power by way of natural gas for not only Gaza, but the West Bank.
”Of course the entire deal went sour, the Israeli government has full control over it now.” Ghassan articulated all this without flinching. He’s well aware of the ways in which his country is being stolen from. There’s no doubt that it’s thievery, but the implications for what Israel is doing are far more sinister.
During the bombings of Gaza in 2006, they hit Gaza’s only power plant, crippling it to the point of merely being able to supply a fraction of power. (30% of what is needed in Gaza -UN 2020)
-electric intifada -without power
The electrical plant is dependent on fuel from Israel. Besides this Egyptians supply 10 percent of the needs of south Gaza.
The rest of the electricity is supplied directly from Israel. It has not yet allowed for development of additional electrical power plants.
“We require 350 mega watts for constant electricity, we get 242 mega watts.” Ghassan added.
According to the energy authority, Gaza needs 350 megawatts of electricity. Israel provides 120MW, Egypt 22MW and – since it was bombed by Israel in 2006 – the Gaza power plant has a maximum capacity of 120MW. The deficit means power cuts have been a feature of daily life for several years, but the recent crisis has increased their length and frequency.
- Attempting to build
In the unlikely event that organizations or governments provide Gaza with enough desalination plants to cover their water needs in the coming years (it would take 6 years from now in order for the PWA to see its plans to maturity -PWA) extra electricity needs to be provided for such industry. This is one of the reasons potential investors have become reluctant about such expenditures. In fact each desalination facility requires its own electrical plant.
Currently there are four industrial operations concerning either desalination, waste water reclamation or both at different levels of construction.
The production level of all these facilities as far as how much of an impact they will have on the overall fresh water shortage is speculative. This is partly due to the fact that nobody knows if the power to provide these facilities to function at full capacity will be constant.
“… the Israeli blockade has seen it (the electrical power plant) starved for fuel, usually operating at less than half of its operational capacity.”
The one certainty is that even in optimal conditions these expensive industrial plants would only provide a fraction of adequate fresh water for drinking or agricultural relief. In contrast it’s especially worth noting the common way of dealing with waste by those that have no alternative.
“In the north sandy soil is 5 to 6 meters down, so septic areas are dug shallowly. However in Khan Younes heavy clay deposits are at that level. Therefore they drill lower to reach the sandy soil.
Their septic tanks are usually made about 30 meters bellow ground. This is very dangerous for the aquifer. At that depth feces can leak directly into the water supply.”
There are projects that the Israeli military allows to proceed, this simply means that they don’t block passage of technical parts through the Kerem Shalom boarder crossing. The projects they approve are often ones that have goods bought from Israeli companies. Israel formally considers these endeavors to be tackling regional problems. This means that they either recognize that if the aquifer (which is connected to all of historic Palestine, but is essentially the tail of the natural water drainage system) in the southern region is completely lost it could eventually have an impact on their own supply.
Or it’s possible that they’re allowing for these attempts now so that when the situation worsens and they begin to be blamed even more so for crimes against humanity they can use this token jest as an example of their cooperation with the people of Gaza.
“However, what gives the scheme at least the possibility of success is that the principle of a desalination plant for Gaza is now backed by Israel, all Mediterranean governments, the UN, the EU and key development banks.” -guardian
I must point out that in this quote they describe such a scheme as possibly producing only a single desalination plant.
Israeli boarder security often labels technical parts as having duel purpose, meaning that they are rejected from entering Gaza due to the fear that they would be used in military operations against Israel. – gisha
This process of discriminating which parts are and are not allowed into the Kerem Shalom crossing has done nothing to increase Israel’s security since illegal tunnel operations continue through the Egyptian border.
This further strengthens the theory that the goods accepted through the Kerem Shalom border are partly for show and partly as a way to control organizations that must maintain a relationship with Israel and thus buy Israeli products for projects in Gaza.
However it isn’t all for show or advancement of business. For even though Israel is allowing parts from designated projects to come in, catalogs are kept. “Pictures of the assembled mechanics are sent to Israeli government officials so they are sure of the location of each section.”
These restrictions have stifled numerous attempts to create not only water plants but industry in many forms. The result has been the continued shrinking of Gaza’s private industrial sector. It’s now a minor percentage of the overall working economy.
Yet if there was more industry in Gaza there would be more pollution, and it already can’t appropriately deal with such waste while the siege is in place.
“Chemical analysis of the water flowing through Wadi Gaza indicated anoxic conditions showing high ammonia content. Organic parameters are high: benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene could be measured – mainly toluene – and the faecal bacteria concentration was extremely high…” -UNEP
The chemicals named in the previous quote are from industry and solid waste.
“An expected amount of solid waste will reach around 1,821 tons/day in 2020.” -WE
“Under present conditions, this practice (burning solid waste) has been reintroduced more or less as a necessity according to the local authorities, to avoid smell and health hazards and to reduce the volume of waste.” -WE
There’s not enough of an area to throw waste away in Gaza, so it inevitably ends up close to water filtration sites. Besides stacking it in areas where leaching continues to grow in volume, selections of trash are compacted. This also uses a tremendous amount of energy.
“There is a small pilot project for solid waste separation. People are in danger of exposure to all sorts of toxic chemicals when trash gets mixed. For example one of the most serious trash related problems in Gaza is when watermelons are in season. They increase cross-contamination when combined with other trash because the high water content of the melons creates the possibility for leaching to increase.” said Ghassan.
Clean water is capped at 70 to 90 liters per person, per day on average in Palestine. This does not meet World Health Organization standards. -UN 2020
“The aquifer could become unusable as early as 2016, with the damage irreversible by 2020.” -UNEP
In other words if abstraction doesn’t cease soon, an aquifer within the borders of Gaza will no longer exist.
-Committees, corporations, authorities and military might:
Mekorot is the Israeli water corporation that supplies 4.7 million cubic meters per year out of the 180 million cubic meters per year required for Gaza residents, it doesn’t facilitate an exchange of water that meets WHO standards due to the piping that supplies it. In fact the pipes are made of concrete and asbestos.
Fortunately it’s being replaced with PVC pipes made in Gaza by the siksik piping company, which is one of the few success stories of Gaza’s industry. So far 65 percent of the outdated plumbing has been replaced.
The question then emerges; what do you do with contaminated material when you don’t have facilities or space to properly dispose of it?
“… hazardous substances in Gaza’s waste sites include asbestos, used on many roofs in Gaza and found amidst bombing debris, chemicals and toxins from Israeli bombs, and hazardous healthcare waste from hospitals including infectious or pathogenic waste, blood and body fluids, and radioactive or chemical waste, according to a September 2009 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report.”
“We don’t have sufficient labs to test enough of the Gaza population for hepatitis A or B. If the situation remains as it is there is an expectation of cholera. From here it is possible that it could spread throughout the Mediterranean due to the massive effluent waste ejected into the sea.” -Qishawi
At least 90,000 cubic meters of wastewater is ejected from Gaza each day. -UN 2020
When scientists tested the levels of pollution in the waters from the coast of Gaza they were not surprised to find that Enterococci levels were well above World Health Organization’s standards.
Only a quarter of the waste, 30,000 MCM per day is reused and treated for farming. -UN 2020
This means most waste water, partially treated or otherwise, is going straight into the land by way of lagoons, or out to sea by places like Wadis. -UNEP
If water treatment can’t be afforded by Palestinians, as it stands, and if no company or government comes to immediate aid, as it needs to; what is there to do?
“A Palestinian family spends on average 8 per cent of its monthly expenditure on purchasing water, as compared to the worldwide average of 3.5 per cent. This figure jumps as high as 50 per cent for those Palestinian families forced to rely on tankered water. In stark contrast, Israeli settlers living illegally in the Jordan Valley pay on average just 0.9 per cent of their monthly expenditure of water, while they are allocated 18 times more water than the per capita amount allocated to Palestinians.” -PWA
At a certain point there’s no other alternative but to face the reality that presents itself. In this case it’s that the Israeli military has seized water supplies while a puppet committee feigns a joint effort to manage the supply.
In 1995 the Joint Water Committee was established (JWC). It supposedly has control over the development and allotment of water throughout all of Historic Palestine.
“In reality, however, Israel has used the JWC to veto PWA efforts to develop Palestine’s water and wastewater sector and service delivery capacity to keep up with the needs of its growing population.” -PWA
“If it’s a win/win situation for the Israeli’s then a particular measure will be accepted by the JWC, but if it’s a win/lose (the winning by the Palestinians and losing of water by the Israelis) they (the Israelis on the water committee) will contest the measure.”
There’s less access for Palestinians per capita to fresh water than now than there was before the formation of the JWC in 1995. -PWA
Even the formation of the Palestinian Water Authority is entrenched in uneven apportioning of water.
“The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) was established under the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II) to develop the Palestinian water sector. This included taking over responsibility for the service delivery of an agreed quota of water allocated to Palestinians under the 1995 agreement. Originally intended to be applicable for a period of no more than 5 years, this quota is still used by Israel as a ceiling to determine the amount of water it allocates to Palestinians, some 17 years after it was originally negotiated, and despite the Palestinian population in the oPt having doubled.” -PWA
So the PWA was partly set up to distribute what is now a minor amount of resources. In contrast the big desalination plants (the bigger the plant, the cheaper the water) have been squandered by turmoil that has been partially fueled by this battle of resources.
Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 desalination plants that had been previously approved were abandoned, and USAID suspended its involvement in water related activities.
- Water born disease:
Regardless of who’s in control in Gaza, neglecting a civilian population of essential resources is not an acceptable way of dealing with it, in fact that only intensifies and expands frustrations.
As an example of what’s vexing: When an adequate amount of clean water is not provided for people, the most at risk are the youth. Extreme levels of nitrates create illnesses such as methemoglobinaemia in children.
The symptoms of this disease include lethargic babies born with blue tinted skin. People in Gaza have an escalating amount of kidney diseases from water contamination among many other health related issues.
”According to international aid organizations, 20 percent of Gazan families have at least one child under age five who suffers from diarrhea as a result of polluted water. A UN study published in 2009 estimates that diarrhea is the cause of 12 percent of children’s deaths in Gaza. The lack of potable drinking water is liable to cause malnutrition in children and affect their physical and cognitive development.”
Acknowledging the apartheid system in Palestine is at the core of understanding why social interactions between it and Israel are strained at best. The simple case for why Gaza needs enough water to sustain the people living in it is unarguable. Regardless of which part of the spectrum one lies politically, the facts as far as what is ethically demanded in this situation inescapably leads toward Palestine being allotted an appropriate amount of resources so that people that live there, can indeed live.
(United Nations Human Rights Council) “Affirms that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity” -OHCHR
-The Gaza Emergency Technical Assistance Program
-electricintifada, water supply
-electricintifda, without power
This is a map of water resources and the apartheid wall in the West Bank-