Sanitation in the Gaza Strip
The Gaza Strip currently suffers from a lack of consumable water. In 2012, this problem became so bad that when compounded with violent conflicts, displacement and high unemployment, the U.N. warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. However, the Strip still remains home to approximately 1.9 million people who are living through the crisis regarding sanitation in the Gaza Strip and hoping for improvement.

What is the Gaza Strip?

The Gaza Strip is a small Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean coast bordering Egypt and Israel. Gaza and Israel share a complicated history, stemming from 1948 when the U.N. decided to split the British territory of Palestine into two separate countries: Israel and Palestine.

Both countries entered into conflict with each other and both occupied Gaza until Israel returned the territory to Palestine in 2005. In 2007, an Islamist Militant group named Hamas came into power. After more violence that eventually ended in 2014, tensions between Gaza and Israel remain high today. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in the Gaza Strip.

10 Facts About Gaza’s Sanitation Crisis

  1. “De-development” is hindering water treatment. According to UNCTAD, de-development is a “process by which development is not merely hindered but reversed.” Gaza faces deteriorating infrastructure and a negative economic growth, both of which feed Gaza’s sanitation crisis. Years of continuing conflict damaged Gaza’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, Gaza does not have the money or the supplies to rebuild. Businesses suffer from Israel’s stifling 11-year blockade of Gaza; their lack of options often forces them to close, driving up unemployment and the poverty rate. Rather than give much-needed support to Gaza, Israel also controls and hinders access to supplies and fuel, which Gaza needs for rebuilding and treating water at its desalination plants.
  2. The Gaza Strip has limited freshwater. In fact, 97% of freshwater in the Gaza Strip is unsuitable for human consumption.
  3. Only approximately 200,000 people have safe water. Only 10% out of the nearly 2 million people who live in Gaza have access to safe drinking water.
  4. Sewage filters into water plants. Every day, approximately 110 million liters of sewage, raw and untreated, go directly into the Mediterranean, which then feeds the desalination plants.
  5. A depleted aquifer is a contaminated water source. According to the U.N., 90% of the water from the underground aquifer is undrinkable because it now contains the seawater that untreated sewage has contaminated. However, a lack of options forces Gazans to use the contaminated aquifer water.
  6. Unaffordable water bills. According to the U.N., 38% of Gazans live in poverty. As a result, they simply cannot afford to pay water bills. The spread of poverty is largely due to Israel’s blockade. The blockade restricts imports and exports, migration and access to the land and sea. Since businesses cannot reach their markets, they shut down, causing a lack of employment opportunities. As a result, it is challenging for Gazans to provide for their families, especially without fishing or farming.
  7. Unsafe drinking water leads to health complications. Water pollution increases the number of kidney problems, diarrhea and blue baby syndrome, an illness that causes babies’ lips and skin to turn blue. The rising cases especially affect Gaza’s increasing child mortality rate.
  8. A lack of electricity immobilizes treatment plants. In Gaza, a $10 million desalination plant can only operate for four hours a day because Israel controls fuel and electricity. Even though Gaza has some functioning treatment plants, the lack of electricity decreases their reliability and output.
  9. Gaza receives less than 16% of items necessary to construct water infrastructure. Israel restricts equipment and supplies, such as cement, from entering Gaza. It does not want Gazans to have anything they could potentially turn against Israel.
  10. Cooperation is key. Political parties often use water and electricity as political instruments against another party. If Israel and Gaza work together, they may be able to solve the sanitation crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Improvements for Gaza’s Sanitation Crisis

An environmental NGO, EcoPeace, and the World Bank both have ongoing projects in Gaza. EcoPeace uncovered and publicized a satellite image of pollution coming from Gaza that affected the Ashkelon Plant. While this desalination plant is located in Gaza, it produces 15% of Israel’s domestic drinking water. Due to the level of pollution it faces, it sometimes has to close, shutting off production. EcoPeace used connections with mayors in the Gaza Strip and Israel to write to the Israeli Prime Minister, conveying that the water security of Israel has a connection with the Gaza Strip. As a result of EcoPeace’s efforts, the Israeli government agreed to sell more electricity to Gaza for water and sewage treatment.

In February 2020, the World Bank initiated the Associated Works Project. Phase one of this project gives a total of $117 million from various sponsors (the World Bank, Kuwait and members of the Partnership for Infrastructure Development Multi-Donor Trust Fund) to provide 30 million cubic meters of fresh water per year to 16 municipalities in Gaza, improving the quality and quantity of water accessible to Gazans. This grant also helps with the construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure.

While the sanitation crisis in the Gaza Strip is severe, with increased cooperation and accountability from Israel, projects like those of the World Bank and EcoPeace should be able to continue and succeed.

 – Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr