Context: The Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip is a 140-square-mile region of the Occupied Palestinian Territories bordering the Mediterranean. It is known as “the largest open-air prison” in the world. The only way in or out is through checkpoints controlled by Israel. Israel’s devastating bombardments of the Gaza Strip, its ongoing attacks, and its blockade of medical and other necessities have forced 80 percent of the population of 2 million—half of them children and two-thirds refugees—to become dependent on international assistance. 

The water, sewage, and electricity infrastructure of the Gaza Strip has been severely damaged by Israel’s five large-scale military offenses since 2006. In 2012 the UN warned that the Gaza Strip would be “unliveable” by 2020. In 2007, a sewage lake in the northern Gaza strip flooded the nearby village of Umm al-Nasser. Five people drowned.
Israel’s bombardments have created fuel and electricity shortages and devastating damage to the electricity grid. As a result, wastewater treatment plants often cannot function, sewage lakes have flooded villages killing people and animals, and 80 million liters of raw sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean sea on a daily basis.  

Ninety-six percent of water from the Gaza Strip’s coastal aquifer is contaminated with nitrates and chloride. Only 6.5 percent of the wells in Gaza meet WHO safety criteria for both nitrates and chloride (a total of 14).

Efforts by aid organizations to address the issue, including a proposed UNICEF-backed project for a major desalination plant in the central Gazan town of Khan Younis, have been hindered by the blockade. Seventy percent of the materials needed for water and wastewater projects  are classified by Israel as dual-use items, that is, considered to have military and civilian applications and subject to Israeli restrictions.

“Through war after war, the existing and already poor water infrastructure in Gaza is repeatedly destroyed or damaged. With a near decade-long blockade, some of the EWASH (the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group) projects remain delayed, incomplete or inoperative as vital materials take months to reach the local market, if at all,” said Maher al-Najjar, the deputy general director of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), which is responsible for providing water supplies in Gaza. (Source: MEE).