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The right to water crisis deepens in Gaza

Over the past five weeks, an estimated 17,000 tons of explosives have been dropped on Gaza by the Israeli military. The assault has left more than 1,980 people dead and 10,181 wounded. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that at least 429 children had been killed, 2,744 have been severely injured, and that about 400,000 are showing symptoms of stress, depression, nightmares and other psychological problems.

Within this human carnage, Ali Abunimah notes, “Seven water technicians were killed while on duty at the height of the Israeli attack when almost half of Gaza’s territory was declared a no-go zone. One of the workers, technician Zeyad Al Shawi, died on 14 July from critical injuries he suffered during an Israeli airstrike on 12 July as he opened valves to supply water to people in Rafah, southern Gaza…”

The drinking water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza has been severely hit.

The Palestinian Water Authority says that this infrastructure has suffered $34.4 million worth of damage since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8. In addition, there has been an estimated $9 million in damage to water services vehicles and machinery.

The Ma’an News Agency reports, “The water authority said in a statement that 11 water wells had been completely destroyed and 15 partially destroyed in the assault, while 17 kilometers of water supply networks were completely destroyed and another 29 partially destroyed. The authority also said that 5 water containers were completely destroyed while 11 water containers were partially or severely damaged, while two desalination units were completely destroyed, and four were partially damaged. In addition, more than seven kilometers of sewage networks were completely destroyed and more than 10 kilometers partially destroyed, while 12 pumping sewage stations were severely damaged and four waste-water treatment stations were partially destroyed.”

More specifically, Monther Shublak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, says the central sewage pumping station was damaged, the wastewater treatment facility was hit twice, and the Beach Well, which provides seawater to the only functioning desalination plant, was destroyed, along with other damage. And with three of the five wastewater treatment plants hit, up to 90,000 litres of sewage has been flowing into the Mediterranean Sea per day.

UNICEF has expressed extreme concern that children drinking water contaminated by this sewage could contract diarrhea which could mean the deaths of more children, particularly those under the age of five.

Bluntly put, because of this, none of the 1.8 million residents of Gaza have stable access to clean drinking water.

And the situation isn’t likely to improve soon.

The Palestinian Water Authority says that $32.6 million of emergency supplies are needed to cover Gaza’s water needs over the next six months. Beyond that, the United Nations has stated that the aquifer that serves Gaza will be unusable by 2016 because of the overpumping of groundwater, the seepage of seawater into the aquifer, and contamination by sewage. Deutsche Welle has reported, “Gaza is only responsible for 26 percent of all withdrawal from the aquifer. Israel is the biggest user, accounting for about 66 percent of the water extracted.”

Saed al-Din Atbash, the head of water facilities at Gaza Municipality, says that all occupied civilians have a legal and human right to clean water and sanitation. The Blue Planet Project agrees with him. And we echo the words of the UN Special Rapporteur for the human rights to water and sanitation Catarina De Albuquerque who says, “[The] right to water and sanitation must be secured in Gaza.” And we join with the United Nations and countless others in calling for an enduring ceasefire and a lifting of the siege on Gaza.

For more, please read the 20-page Blue Planet Project report The Human Right to Water in Palestine.

Further reading
Israel must respect the right to water and stop bombing Gaza’s water infrastructure (July 14) 
The water war in Gaza (July 23) 
The right to water in Gaza (July 28) 
Gaza and the right to water (July 31)