7th August 2016 | International Solidarity Movement | Gaza Team
As every year, during the summer, the water shortage in the Gaza Strip is accentuated. At the same time, the energy shortage caused by the blockade prevents engines and water pumps from pushing it from wells and tanks to houses and farming fields.
The Beach Camp is one of the more densely populated areas of Gaza and therefore one of the most affected by water scarcity. In addition, because of its location, directly on the seafront, its aquifers are some of the most affected by the infiltration of seawater and wastewater.
ISMÂ collected several testimonies of people affected by this problem in order to discuss them with engineer Monther Shoblak, General Director of the Palestinian National Authority Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU).
The first testimony is that of Azzam Miflah El Sheikh Khalil, who says â€śthe water comes only once every three days, and just for a few hours, which is not enough [to fill the tanks]. People canâ€™t imagine how we are suffering because of the lack of water. In addition, there is no difference between the water from our wells and the sea waterâ€¦ The main problem is that when there is electricity thereâ€™s no running water and when there is running water thereâ€™s no electricity . The only solution we have is to buy a generator to produce electricity when thereâ€™s water, but who can buy it if there is no work?â€ť
In the next block lives the Mokhtar Kamal Abu Riela, who stressed the same problem:Â â€śWhen thereâ€™s water thereâ€™s no electricity, and vice versa. Maybe once every four or five days we have water and electricity at the same time for a few hours. Every day we buy gasoline to run the generator the hours when thereâ€™s running water, but the economic situation of the people is very precarious and not everyone can spend 20 NIS a day on gas just to have water in the tanks. We spend more on gasoline than in electricity or water itselfâ€ť.
We asked the Mokhtar if he remembers when that problem began:Â â€śTen years ago or so, with the blockadeâ€ť.
Finally, Im Majed Miqdad explained the difficulties she and her large family are faced with in their day to day life due to water scarcity:Â â€śThere [are] people who build underground tanks [as those can be filled without bombs] or who buy a generator operated with gasoline. But not everyone can afford these things. Iâ€™m one of those people who can not pay NIS 20-30 a day in gasoline to run the generator. Today, for example, in my home and in the homes of my four sons and their families we donâ€™t have a drop of water, the four tanks are empty. We are waiting until running water and electricity will coincide in order to fill them. The situation is very hard, we have no water, we have no electricity, we have no work â€¦ If water and electricity would coincide at least three hours a day it would be enough to fill the tanks enough to spend the day. People must understand that when there is no water you can not use the bathroom, you can not take a shower, you can not clean the dishes, the house, the clothes â€¦ And here the families have five, six, ten members â€¦ we are not just two or three people in each houseâ€ť.
Given the frequent complaints of the population, the first thing that engineer Monther Shoblak wants to explain is that the failures in the water supply are due to the power cuts and therefore they canâ€™t control them:Â â€śIt is impossible for us to match the running water with the electricity, as to carry water from one area to the other, motors and pumps are needed and those canâ€™t operate without electricity. We canâ€™t control it because we donâ€™t know which bomb will fail and whenâ€ť.
However, he explains, the water problem in the Gaza Strip is more serious than that:Â â€śIndeed there is an over-exploitation of the aquifer in the Gaza Strip. This is because the coastal aquifer, which runs from Sinai to Yaffa and that is the only source of water available today in the Gaza Strip, has been nurtured historically by rainwater and by the water from the mountains of Al Khalil (Hebron) and the Naqab. However, for decades our neighbors [the Zionists] have been building dams that prevent the water from following its natural course to Gaza, leaving rainwater as the sole source of the coastal aquifer. These dams are illegal, since they involve a violation of the conventional agreements on transboundary water sources. â€ś
Because of these illegal policies practiced byÂ the Zionist entity,Â â€śthe production capacity of Gazaâ€™s aquifer has dropped to 55 million cubic meters a year. While the water demand of the Strip is 200 million cubic meters a yearâ€ť.
This overexploitation is decreasing, to an alarming point, the level of the aquifer, causing seawater to seep and fill that vacuum, mixing with the fresh water and contaminating the aquifer. Additionally, to this chloride contamination caused by seawater seeping into the aquifer, the water is contaminated by nitrates from leaking sewage and fertilizers:Â â€śThese are more dangerous than chlorides, as they canâ€™t be detected by smell or tasteâ€ť.
The successive attacks on the Gaza Strip have severely affected the sewage systems and destroyed thousands of septic tanks, causing in many cases wastewater to end up in the aquifer.
In addition, due to the lack of resources of local authorities, only 72% of Gaza is equipped with sewage systems. The rest depends on septic tanks built without supervision:Â â€śThe occupation never provided the necessary services, such as mandated by international law. They didnâ€™t build enough plants for wastewater treatment in order to protect the environment. If we look at the objective data it seems that their intention was just the opposite. These plants shouldnâ€™t be built in sandy areas, to avoid leaks, and should have an exit to the sea to prevent overflow in case of emergency. However, they built the main one in Beit Lahia, the sandiest area in Gaza and without exit to the sea. So when there is an overflow, which is quite common, wastewater inevitably ends up in the aquifer and contaminating farmlands in the areaâ€ť.
At the same time, several cases of viral meningitis arose all along the Gaza Strip, some of which were mortal. This seemsÂ to be caused by wastewater contamination. This situation has forced the local authorities to close many swimming pools and advice the people not to swim in the sea, during the next weeks.
Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.