EU launches 10m.-euro Gaza desalination project

PA water chief: Inequities, blockade amplify Gaza crisis; Erdan says plant unrelated to Israeli actions.

Water cooperation 311 (photo credit: Friends of the Earth)
Water cooperation 311
(photo credit: Friends of the Earth)
The European Union has launched a 10 million euro project to erect a desalination facility over the next three years in Gaza, to combat what the governing body calls “the humanitarian water crisis” in the territory.
Acting EU representative to the West Bank and Gaza, John Gatt-Rutter, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Palestinian Water Authority head Shaddad Attili last week, as well as with members of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and UNICEF.
The facility, according to the EU, will be a “medium-term intervention” and will provide safe drinking water to approximately 75,000 inhabitants of Khan Yunis and Rafah.
“As the EU has reiterated in the past, the continued policy of closure in Gaza has damaged the natural environment, notably water and other natural resources,” Gatt- Rutter said. “I hope that this intervention can bring real change for some Palestinians living under unsustainable conditions in the Strip.”
Attili praised the EU’s decision to provide these funds.
“The facility is one component of a rolling program of interventions designed to tackle Gaza’s acute water problems and save its underground aquifer from imminent collapse,” he said Sunday.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan likewise praised the EU’s decision to fund the plant, saying Monday the Israelis have been saying everywhere they want the Palestinians to build it.
“In my eyes, water should be out of the conflict,” Erdan said. “We are not trying to prevent water from the Palestinians. We want them to have all the water that they need to have.”
According to a statement, the EU has been particularly involved in recent years in improving water supply, sewage connection and wastewater treatment in both the West Bank and Gaza. In the past few years, the EU has supplied 1.3m. euros to Tulkarm and Jenin for water infrastructure, 2m. euros to Hebron for water networks, 6m. euros to emergency sewage treatment in northern Gaza and 3.5m. euros for water sanitation in Rafah and Deir el-Balah in Gaza.
In addition to promoting reforms in the Palestinian Authority water sector and aiming to foster cooperation with the corresponding bodies in Israel and Jordan, the EU is also in the process of preparing an 18m. euro treatment plant in Tubas.
In Attili’s eyes, the water situation particularly in Gaza has come to a “crisis point,” in which only 10 percent of all available water to residents there is now safe to drink. While the EU’s new project is absolutely necessary given the circumstances, however, it is only “an interim measure,” rather than a long-term solution, he warned. To achieve far-reaching results, all those involved with tackling Gaza’s water situation must combine their efforts for a series of programs and interventions, according to Attili.
“It signals the beginning of a long and difficult road ahead,” he said of the project.
“The single greatest cause remains Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza, and the vastly unfair water arrangements that currently exist between Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.
Erdan vehemently disagreed with these allegations.
“We left Gaza six years ago – what kind of arrangement does he want us to make with Hamas – that we supply water for them to drink between the missiles?” Erdan argued.
“What’s the connection to the blockade?” he continued. “If they want to bring materials to build a desalination plant, I will personally help them to bring them – not that we stopped it until now. The blockade is about checking that there is no illegal weapon coming into Gaza.”
Attili also criticized the Oslo Interim Agreement of 1995, which among other things, regulates water transit between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through the Joint Water Committee. The committee, Attili argued, rejects most Palestinian applications to build water treatment facilities within its territory.
“Most recognize that the vast inequalities separating Palestinians and Israelis both in terms of access to water and water quality are unsustainable,” he said. “Only an end to Israel's occupation and its ongoing colonization and exploitation of our land and resources, will take us beyond the current state of crisis management and lead to a permanent solution.”
Erdan, on the other hand, said that Israel would like to assist the Palestinians in developing their water industry, and he criticized them for failing to look after pipe leakage or charge for water in many areas of the West Bank. Meanwhile, he said that a representative from the Israel Defense Force told him that the JWC has now approved 28 Palestinian water projects, and suggested that Attili contact him if he faces any future problems getting approvals.
“We are willing to help, we are willing to cooperate,” Erdan said.