Palestine is a sovereign state in the Middle East that contains both the Gaza Strip and West Bank. It is undergoing conflict with Israel, with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Today, many Palestinians live with limited access to clean water, which disturbs their ability to live peacefully. Here are 10 facts about access to clean water in Palestine.
10 Facts About Access to Clean Water in Palestine
- Limited Clean Water Access: In the Gaza Strip, only one in 10 people have direct access to clean and safe water and 97% of freshwater from Gaza’s only aquifer is unfit for human consumption. Overpopulation, over-pumping and the seeping of seawater into freshwater have significantly reduced the amount of clean water available in Palestine.
- Clean Water is Expensive: Due to the severe shortage of clean in Palestine, private vendors charge high prices for their water. Freshwater costs 30 shekels ($7) per cubic meter. As of 2017, 95% of Gaza’s population depends on these private vendors for desalinated and clean water.
- Violence Damages Water Networks: In 2014, the Gaza War caused $30 million worth of damage to water storage tanks and pumping and piping systems. Tensions with Israel have exacerbated this problem, as Israel maintains a blockade around the Gaza Strip, which prevents Palestinians in Gaza from seeking clean water sources outside of the Gaza’s contaminated aquifer.
- There is a Sanitation Crisis: After the Gaza Power Plant ran out of fuel and shut down, energy shortages adversely affected more than 450 water and wastewater facilities. As a result, 108,000 m3 (about 43 standard Olympic pools) worth of sewage flows every day into the Mediterranean Sea. About 70% of Gaza beaches have experienced contamination; in the winter, sewage floods the streets. UNICEF is tackling this by supporting WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) services that improve access to clean water for 40,000 people. Other services and interventions UNICEF supports include rehabilitation of infrastructure, repairs of public sanitation facilities and maintenance works and rehabilitation of water wells and stormwater pumping stations.
- Risk of Disease is High: With access to clean water deteriorating, Palestinians cannot shower and wash their food and hands frequently, which intensifies the risk of disease. In 2017, diarrhea in children as young as 3-years-old doubled in 3 months, from nearly 1,483 cases in March to 3,713 in June. UNICEF has been combating this since January and February 2020 by supporting the monthly distribution of sodium hypochlorite to public water facilities in Gaza. This helps avert waterborne disease outbreaks as well as improve access to safe and clean water in Palestine.
- Poverty Hinders the Ability to Pay: Between 80% and 85% of people in Gaza live in abject poverty and cannot afford to pay their water bills. The 11-year blockade has worsened unemployment in Gaza, which is at 60% for young adults. Meanwhile, the municipality cannot afford to fuel water pumps. Jamal Al-Khudari, a Palestinian legislator, said in February 2020 that long-distance or remote employment opportunities might help unemployed Palestinians, though the best way to reduce unemployment is to end the Israeli siege.
- Water Usage Per Day is Meager: Palestinians in the West Bank only use about 72 liters of water per day. In contrast, the average American uses about 302-378 liters of water per day, and the average water usage per person in the U.K. in 2018 was 149 liters.
- Gaza Could Become Uninhabitable: The United Nations reported that Gaza may become uninhabitable by 2020, with the principal reason being the water crisis. The damage to the Gaza aquifer may become irreparable by that time. UNICEF planned to prevent this by funding the Gaza Strip’s largest desalination plant in 2017, which projections determine will produce 20,000 cubic meters of desalinated water in 2020. This will serve about 275,000 people in Rafah and Khan Younis with 90 liters of water per capita per day. UNICEF also funded the largest solar field in Gaza, which will help power the seawater desalination plant and allow more citizens to obtain safe and clean drinking water in Palestine.
- Other Organizations Working to Help Palestine: The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine collaborates with many organizations around the world to raise awareness about the water crisis in Palestine. One such organization is House of Water and Environment, a Palestinian nonprofit NGO that works with Newcastle University to conduct water and environmental research and development projects that improve water supply as well as sanitation services in Palestine. HWE also develops simulation models to solve regional and national water and environmental problems.
- Another NGO is Working to Provide Clean Water to Schools: The Middle East Children’s Alliance started The Maia Project to provide clean water to children in Gaza by installing and maintaining water purification and desalination units to children in Gaza schools and community kindergartens. MECA has constructed 42 water purification units, with 10 more currently being constructed. Each unit provides clean water for more than 2,000 students and staff. MECA plans to continue The Maia Project until it has installed units in all 221 U.N. schools in Gaza refugee camps as well as in hundreds of kindergarten and preschools in Gaza. The Maia Project accepts donations for maintenance, cleaning and purchases of water purification units and drinking fountains on its website. As of June 2020, it raised about $78,000 of its $80,000 goal.
One can infer from these facts that the Palestinian water crisis is severe. Organizations such as UNICEF, MECA and HWE are working to provide greater desalination processes and improve water and sanitation infrastructure in Palestine. Even an ordinary citizen can help by donating money to a project such as The Maia Project to help Palestinians obtain access to clean and safe drinking water.
– Ayesha Asad