The Gaza Strip has a population of 1.7 million, which is expected to grow to 2.1 million by 2020. The demand for clean water access will also undoubtedly increase. In lieu of rivers or streams, the region has thus far had to survive by drawing water from its lone coastal aquifer. However, water is being extracted at a rate of 47 billion gallons per year, and has far surpassed its annual rate replenishment of around 16 billion gallons.
This has caused the aquifer to fill with salinated water from the Mediterranean. Estimates show that approximately 90 percent of the water drawn is unsafe to consume. In addition to the sea water influx, the aquifer is contaminated by untreated sewage. Roughly 90,000 cubic meters of sewage flows from Gaza to the coastal waters.
The demand for water has caused many unregulated vendors to begin selling water to make a profit, but roughly 80 percent of the water sold by street vendors is also contaminated. The desperation of Gazans, however, has become increasingly apparent. As many as 4 out of 5 will resort to purchasing potentially unsafe water by these private sellers.
In addition to a possibly serious health risk, this also places an economic strain on many Gazans. “Some families are paying as much as a third of their household income on water,” states June Kunugi, a UNICEF Representative for Palestine.
In response to Gaza’s water crisis, UNICEF has worked to complete 18 small desalination taps where residents can draw water free of charge. Also provided, are 3 brackish (mixed fresh & saltwater) plants that are capable of desalinating 50 cubic metres per hour and 10 plants capable of treating 50 cubic metres per day. In total, these plants are estimated to provide water for 95,000 residents.
In 2013, the European Union (EU) announced a collaboration with UNICEF to build a major seawater desalination plant. The project was made possible by a €10 million grant provided by the European Union. The plant is projected to provide 6,000 square metres of water to residents of the two cities.
In an announcement of the project, European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter stated “The launch of construction work on this desalination plant, offers the prospect of access to clean water for many thousands of families in Khan Younis and Rafah. It forms part of the EU’s wider commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in the area of water, sanitation and solid waste management.”
The 18 km pipeline that divides water between the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis was recently completed, marking the first step towards a monumental solution. Once the plant is completed in late 2015, it is expected to be capable of providing clean water to more than 75,000 Gazans.
– Frasier Petersen