Word on the Street: The water crisis in Gaza

Jeremy Ben-Ami
on October 20, 2014

By Jeremy Ben-Ami

Even before the horrible 50-day military confrontation this summer in Gaza, the water situation for the 1.7 million Palestinians who live there was desperate.

According to UNICEF[1], more than 90 per cent of the water extracted from the territory’s sole aquifer is unsafe for human consumption; an estimated four-fifths of the water sold by private vendors there contaminated. Additionally, nearly 100,000 cubic meters of wastewater are discharged into the sea every day because sewage treatment plants are overwhelmed.

Currently, potable water flows from Israel to Gaza through two pipelines. A third pipeline has been constructed but has not been turned on. Israel could turn the lever tomorrow and double the flow of clean, potable water to Gaza.

This action is being held up pending broader negotiations that, of course, are complex and may never reach fruition.

Israel should open the pipe now, without waiting for a final agreement. This is a humanitarian action that in no way threatens Israel’s security.

This summer’s war made a bad situation much, much worse. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently reported[2] that Israeli air strikes destroyed much of the already inadequate sewage network and damaged the territory’s sole power plant. Desalination and water delivery systems were also severely impacted.

Raw sewage now flows through the streets to the sea, creating a massive new hazard to public health, not just for Palestinians but also for Israelis. As we all know, tides and groundwater do not recognize international borders.

Today, the waters that lap the sunny beaches of Ashkelon are increasingly contaminated with Gaza’s raw sewage. A regional outbreak of typhoid or cholera would put at risk the people of Israel and Egypt as well as Gaza, and health officials believe such a pandemic is a real possibility.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Gaza last week, said that almost half a million Gazans do not have access to the municipal water supply. Others put the number as high as 1.2 million.[3]

Israel could do more – much more – to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and it is in its own interests to do so.

A simple first step is to turn the new pipeline on. Click here to tell your members of Congress to ask the Israeli Embassy in DC why that isn’t being done.

Gidon Bromberg, Israel Director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, writing with journalist Oded Eran in Times of Israel, has also called on Israel to urgently deliver fuel and more generators to Gaza “to help operate what exists of Gaza’s inadequate sanitation system.”[4] A new waste water treatment plant financed by the World Bank at Beit Lahia could come online if Israel only delivered the power to operate it.

So let’s take action and make a difference in the lives of the people of the region. A few well-placed calls from US Senators and Representatives would certainly catch the attention of the Israeli government. And we would see quick results.

Being pro-Israel and pro-peace does not mean only advocating for a two-state solution or protesting the expansion of Israeli settlements.

It also means taking action in emergency situations – and this is a true emergency. The health of children is especially threatened.

Email your elected representatives and ask them to call on the Israeli ambassador to prevent this disaster from unfolding.


[1] A fresh solution to Gaza’s water crisis, UNICEF.

[2] Gaza: Damaged water and sewage systems post health danger, International Committee of the Red Cross

[3] Conference Pledges $5.4 Billion to Rebuild Gaza Strip, New York Times.

[4] On water for Gaza, put politics aside, Times of Israel.

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