The worsening problem of water in the Middle East is one of the most significant and dangerous struggles currently facing the region today. From issues of continuous deterioration in quality, to those of limited availability and high competition for that available, the situation is critical. All of this and more has made the search for alternative sources of this resource an imperative, and a solution to the problem needs to be speedily implemented before a point of no return is reached.
In the regional struggle for this indispensable resource, the situation in Palestine stands out above all others. Not only are Palestinian water resources continually faced with the danger of severe deterioration, depletion and draught, but additionally, Israel maintains illegal control over its surface drinking water basins and appropriates its subterranean reserves by pumping them into its settlements.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is singular given its steadily increasing population and the lack of any kind of balance between the water available in its coastal subterranean reservoir and the needs of its population. It is estimated that the population of the Gaza Strip is around 1.5 million and that this figure will reach 2.79 million by 2025. Looking at the current overall water consumption in Gaza estimated at between 150-170 million cubic metres and all sourced from the subterranean reservoir, the amount of water consumed in the Sector per person is approximately 80 litres a day. This figure is far below that recommended by the World Health Organisation which is 150 litres per person per day.
In terms of quality, the majority of the available drinking water is incompatible with the recommendation of the World Health Organisation.
The source of the problem in the Gaza Strip stems from the fact that between 1967 and 2005, the Israeli Occupation caused groundwater depletion by cultivating crops which consume large quantities of groundwater in their Gaza settlements. Crops grown such as flowers, fruits and vegetables were then exported to Europe. Similarly, during Israel’s occupation of the Sector, it appropriated Gaza’s water resources through the Zionist company ‘Makrout’ and either used it in the development of the occupied Negev desert region or desalinated it and sold it back to the people of Gaza at extortionate prices.
Following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip when it was no longer able to utilise the geographic space, it constructed what are known as the water fisheries along the stretch of its eastern border with the Strip. Here it drilled approximately 27 extremely deep wells through which it is able to capture water cascading from the east to the west. It also constructed several bridges over the Gaza valley in order to appropriate its water.
The water situation in the Gaza Strip has become critical such that it is no longer possible to obtain fresh natural drinking water from the groundwater basins except in extremely small quantities. 95% of Gaza’s water resources are salty and contaminated to varying degrees with toxic organic and inorganic substances. As such, residents are obliged to purchase desalinated water from small desalination plants administered by merchants and contractors. The majority of these do not meet health standards, while the vast majority of residents shower with salt water.
It is estimated that the amount of water currently being pumped from the drinking water basins is in the region of 150-170 million cubic metres while the average annual rate of replenishment from precipitation does not exceed 45 million cubic metres. This is in addition to about 26 million cubic metres of irrigation water that returns to basins, along with other quantities of untreated water estimated at 18 million cubic metres. That is, the total annual amount of water going into the basin is estimated at 90 million cubic metres while the cumulative annual deficit is more than 80 million cubic metres. This exposes the rock layer system which carries groundwater to erosion, expands the areas of high salinity and allows the leakage of agricultural and industrial pollutants. The levels of fluoride and nitrate concentration have increased to very significant levels when compared to acceptable standards according to the World Health Organisation. In addition, concentrations of other toxic inorganic substances have also been recorded which exceed allowable levels and which constitute a serious danger to general health. It is believed that 50% of diseases in the Gaza Strip are the result of contaminated water.