Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel plans to double the amount of water it sells to the Gaza Strip to help relieve the water crisis there and ease the burden on the overtaxed coastal aquifer. It is the latest in a series of gestures Israel has made recently to the Palestinians there and in the West Bank.
In an interview to the Jerusalem- based daily Al-Quds on Wednesday, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai announced that Gaza would receive 10 million cubic meters of water a year instead of the current 5 million. The additional quantity is expected to begin flowing within the next week, a COGAT spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post.
Most of Gaza’s water now comes from the coastal aquifer. However, the 1.8 million Palestinians there are drawing it out faster than it can be replenished. As a result, seawater from the Mediterranean is seeping in, creating a saline level beyond World Health Organization guidelines for safe drinking water, according to a report last year by the NGO EcoPeace: Friends of the Earth Middle East.
A second report by B’Tselem last year found that 90 percent of the water in the Gaza Strip was “unfit for drinking.” The European Union estimates that as much as 95% cannot be consumed by humans.
“The needs in Gaza for fresh water are huge. Nearly 95% of water in Gaza is considered unfit for human consumption. Enormous efforts are needed to ensure that Gazans can access fresh water. This is both a fundamental human right and an urgent humanitarian need for Gaza’s population,” EU representative John Gatt-Rutter said last week.
The military conflict between Israel and Hamas last summer made the problem even more acute.
The issue was foreseen decades ago, and Israel pledged to increase its water sales to Gaza in the 1990s under the Oslo Accords. New infrastructure was needed, and the construction of larger water pipes was not completed until just a few years ago. Still, it needed the approval of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, which stopped meeting in 2010.
Recently, Mordechai circumvented the committee and approved a number of projects, including water for the new Palestinian city of Rawabi in the West Bank. He made a similar move with the Gaza project, and approved it out of concern for the well-being of the people in Gaza, as well as the environmental impact on the aquifer, security sources said.
Mordechai told Al-Quds he hoped Hamas “does not steal water from civilians as it steals construction material for rebuilding homes in the Strip.”
As far as the roles of the Water Authority and Mekorot national water company as conveyors of the water, a Water Authority spokesman told the Post that the additional infrastructure necessary to carry the increased amount of water has been ready for quite some time.
“We are a professional body, and what is requested of us we do,” the spokesman said. “From the Water Authority’s point of view, all of the infrastructure demanded and supposed to be [in place] was done already.”
Separately, work is under way with the help of the EU and UNICEF to build a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip to provide drinking water for as many as 75,000 people.
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