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 Euro on Tuesday to build a desalination plan in Gaza which will provide clean drinking water to the 2 million Palestinians living in the Strip.
“This is the biggest ever investment project in Gaza,” said the EU Commissioner for the Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn.
"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 the conference along with the Palestinian Authority.
The funds pledged for the Gaza Central Desalination Plant & Associated Works Project make up 80% of the total 562.3 euros needed. The EU plans to provide 77 million Euro for the project.
On April 15, the European Investment Bank will start the process leading up to the anticipated three year construction period.
Hahn told the delegations of the 42 countries, including Israel and 20 EU member states, who were participating in the conference, that their presence 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 emphasized.
Kherish Rassas, advisor to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, 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.”
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on the planet and has an unemployment rate of 44%, Hahn asserted.
The Strip's population relies heavily on a polluted aquifer. “Only 3 percent of the water pumped from it complies with the World Health Organization’s drinking water standards."
The capacity of this aquifer is 55-60 million cubic meters per year, whereas total water demand in Gaza is over 180 million cubic meters 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 the Mediterranean, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, Office of the Quartet and the Islamic Development Bank will also be participating in the project. In addition, Israel has pledged to ensure that materials for the plant can enter Gaza.
The plant will have power supply facilities, a network to distribute water including a system to halt leaks from existing pipes. The desalination of water through the project will help regefill the aquifer and reduce pollution in the Mediterranean sea, according to Hahn.
The UN has started a separate half billion dollar campaign for Gaza.
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