Half of the children in Gaza suffer from water pollution
Most of the population of the Gaza Strip suffers from severe water shortages, and the water from the public network that supplies homes is often salty, polluted and unsuitable for drinking. The average share of water in the Gaza Strip is about 88 liters per day, which is less than the minimum requirements for life, set by the World Health Organization, which amount to 100 liters per day.
The political and security conditions, along with the current global economic crisis, are putting a heavy burden on the Palestinian citizens living in the Gaza Strip, who currently number about two million, including about 600,000 refugees living in 8 overcrowded camps. Part of the population depends on social welfare services, and due to the high price of water ($7 per cubic meter), which is supplied by tankers, drinking water alone absorbs about a third of the value of the monthly financial assistance.
Israel’s restrictions exacerbate the water crisis
The Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health (GIWEH) estimates that 97 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable. A United Nations report published in 2012 predicted that Gaza’s water pollution problem would become unfixable and its land uninhabitable within ten years.
Half of Gaza’s children suffer from water-borne diseases, according to World Health Organization estimates. While the human rights organization says that a quarter of diseases spreading in the Strip are caused by water pollution, and 12 percent of the deaths of young children are linked to intestinal infections linked to polluted water.
The water crisis in Gaza is the result of several interrelated causes, the most serious of which is the Israeli blockade, which has negatively affected the quantity and quality of water through border controls that prevent the arrival of basic materials such as construction materials, and rocket attacks on water supply and sanitation facilities and networks and the power plant in Strip, with a lack of water. Power supply. Israel sells a limited amount of water to the Palestinians in Gaza, and while it transfers water from the north to the south of the territory it controls, the Palestinians are not allowed to transfer water from the West Bank to Gaza.
Surface and groundwater in the Gaza Strip are also exposed to different pressure factors. Given that the topography of the sector is almost flat with small differences in topography and relatively little precipitation, surface waters make up a small percentage of water resources. There are three main valleys in the Gaza Strip, including the Beit Hanoun Valley, which crosses the northern part of the Strip and is considered one of the driest valleys in most years, so there are clear encroachments on its course. As well as the Gaza Valley, which is located in the south of the city, and its overflow basin extends east beyond the Strip to the Hebron mountains, and the flow of water through it in rainy years reaches about 20 million cubic meters per year. However, Israel blocks the natural flow of water from the valley to the Gaza Strip by building several barriers to collect surface water and use it in agricultural or industrial projects. As a result, the valley is dry most years, with the exception of those that witness heavy rainfall that leads to flows that exceed the storage capacity of Israeli construction.
There is also Wadi Al-Salqa, which is located in the center of the Gaza Strip, south of Deir Al-Balah, and it is one of the small valleys that does not have an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea due to the lack of water and slow flow. Therefore, groundwater is virtually the only water resource in the Strip, as residents depend on it to meet their water needs for agriculture, industry, and domestic consumption.
The coastal aquifer is the source of groundwater in the Gaza Strip, and it extends throughout its territory. The thickness of the aquifer ranges from a few meters in the east and southeast to between 120 and 150 meters in the western areas along the coastal belt.
In large parts of the northern and southern regions of the Gaza Strip, there are sand dunes 20 to 30 meters thick with high permeability that allows surface water to seep through them, which over the years has led to the formation of layers of fresh groundwater. On the other hand, the permeability of these dunes allows the infiltration and leakage of surface sewage and other polluted discharges into the groundwater.
Although the groundwater in these areas is characterized by relatively brackish water quality, it contains high levels of nitrates as a result of pollution from sewage seeping through the sand dunes, especially since most of the Strip’s residential areas and sewage networks are located within these areas.
On the other hand, under the aquifers of the coastal aquifer there are layers of poorly permeable clay. These layers are considered solid and do not produce any water at all, making the coastal aquifer the only practical source of water in the Gaza Strip, as it is relied upon to meet all water needs.
Pollutants seep into groundwater
There are several sources of water pollution in the Gaza Strip, the most important of which are untreated sewage, agricultural land waste containing fertilizers and chemical pesticides, leaching from random landfills, and industrial waste. The sewer network in the Gaza Strip covers 78 percent of homes, while the remaining homes use simple septic tanks or septic tanks from which wastewater is filtered into groundwater.
While the amount of wastewater generated by the Gaza Strip is about 100,000 cubic meters per day, the Palestinian National Information Center indicates that the percentage of wastewater that flows into the sea is 80 percent of the total waste, which is all untreated or partially treated. The rest of the wastewater seeps into the aquifer, polluting the water and soil.
Wastewater treatment in the Strip is limited to three sites that are nothing more than septic tanks to capture solids, and it suffers from a crisis in the availability of electricity. In addition, part of the waste water is thrown into Wadi Gaza, where it creates a lake on the seashore where insects breed and is a source of unpleasant odors. In early 2021, a new wastewater treatment plant was put into operation to alleviate the pollution problem, with funding from the German government.
Often, industrial waste is dumped into the Strip without any treatment, causing soil and groundwater pollution, as well as seawater. Costs come from various activities and workshops, the most important of which are leather tanning, olive pressing, textile dyeing and car repair. This waste usually contains unacceptable concentrations of heavy metals and salts, along with high chemical oxygen index (COD), percentage of undissolved solids, pH and more.
A survey of the quality of groundwater in the Gaza Strip shows that the percentage of sodium chloride and nitrate is higher than the internationally allowed levels. Groundwater has also been recorded in most areas of the Belt, especially in the governorates of Khan Yunis, Deir al-Balah, Rafah and Gaza, while exceeding the recommendations of the World Health Organization in terms of indicators of insoluble solids, electrical conductivity, nitrates, sodium, hardness and others.
Waste water contributes to the pollution of the sea along the Palestinian coast, which is one of the important environmental problems in addition to the spread of waste on the coastal strip and the remains of sea fishing. Water analyzes at 17 locations along the coast of the Gaza Strip show the presence of chemical and biological pollution that varies according to different seasons and is related to the flow of wastewater, population activities and the amount of rain.
Pollution, along with the Israeli blockade, is destroying the fishing industry in the Gaza Strip. While fishing used to be the source of livelihood for about 10,000 fishermen in the Strip, the number of fishermen has dwindled to only 4,000 people as a result of Israeli measures that imposed a reduction in the extent of fishing in 2020. The loss of livelihood in the Strip, where more than half of the population is unemployed, leads to a deficit in the payment of water bills and a lack of state financial resources for water treatment.
It has been two years since the United Nations estimated that the Gaza Strip would become an uninhabitable place. Despite local initiatives and international aid being provided to mitigate the impact of the water crisis, all these measures remain emergency treatments for a major problem that requires fundamental systemic solutions, the most important of which is the lifting of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation besieging Gaza.