A Palestinian girl drinks from a public tap at the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
Donors in Brussels pledged €456 million to build a desalination plant in Gaza that will provide clean drinking water to the two million Palestinians living there.
“This is the biggest ever investment project in Gaza,” said Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for the neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations.
“This project will meet the most urgent water needs in Gaza, providing drinking water and at the same time contributing to economic growth, environmental sustainability and stability,” Hahn said.
He co-chaired Monday’s donors conference along with the Palestinian Authority.
The money pledged for the “Gaza Central Desalination Plant & Associated Works Project” represent 80% of the total €562.3m. needed. The EU plans to provide €77m. for the project.
On April 15, the European Investment Bank will start the tender process for the anticipated three-year construction process.
Hahn told the 42 country delegations at the conference, including Israel and 20 EU member states, that their attendance was encouraging and provided hope for the Palestinian people.
“Your presence is a very strong demonstration of the broad international support this project enjoys. It is a demonstration of our joint solidarity with the people of Gaza and our support for the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip,” Hahn said.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s adviser Kherish Rassas told the delegates that “the project will contribute to the political stability of the region, as water scarcity can have grim repercussions and spark further tensions.”
Gaza’s 364 square kilometers is one of the most densely populated places on the planet and has an unemployment rate of 44%, Hahn said.
The population relies heavily for water on an aquifer that is polluted, he said. “Only 3% of the water pumped from it complies with the World Health Organization’s drinking water standards, he added.
The capacity of this aquifer is 55 million cubic meters-60 m.cu. per year, whereas demand is more than 180 m.cu. per year, according to the EU.
“Most people predict Gaza will be unlivable by 2020, but for many it is already unlivable today,” Hahn said.
The Union for Mediterranean (an intergovernmental organization of the 28 member states of the European Union and 15 Mediterranean partner countries from North Africa, Western Asia and Southern Europe), the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, Office of the Quartet and Islamic Development Bank will also work on the project.
Israel has pledged to ensure that materials for the plant can enter Gaza, Hahn said.
The plant will have a power supply facilities and a network to distribute water including halting leaks from existing pipes, he said. The desalination of water through the project will help regenerate the aquifer and reduce pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, Hahn said.
The meeting took place on the same day and in the same city as the gathering of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which oversees donor projects for the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
It follows a White House meeting on Gaza this month as well as a pledging conference for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Rome.
The UN has separately began a half-billion dollar campaign for Gaza.