Providing drinking water for Gaza

by Peter Easton, Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

Feature 20 December 2017

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There are three principal causes of water scarcity. 1) physical scarcity: when there is insufficient natural replenishment; 2) economic scarcity: when there are insufficient funds for constructing and maintaining infrastructure; and 3) scarcity can arise from poor governance, when politics or general poor management mean that things just do not get done. Gaza is unlucky enough to find all three contributing to its severe shortage of safe and sufficient drinking water.

The Gaza Strip covers an area of 365 km2– a little more than that of Malta – but with four times the population at nearly 2 million. With a density of 13,000 people per square kilometre, it is one of the most densely- populated territories in the world.

Its small size and arid climate leave the Strip with very limited natural water resources. Wadi Gaza, which passes across the middle of the territory, from Israel to the Mediterranean Sea, carries fresh water for only short periods, perhaps once a year after rains. The principal fresh water resource is from the underlying coastal aquifer, consisting mainly of sand and sandstone, which holds water within its pores, a bit like a hard sponge.

Moreover, annual water withdrawals from over 4,000 wells are 64% greater than natural replenishment rates, causing falling groundwater levels and seawater intrusion.

Because the aquifer is also shallow and unprotected, it is contaminated by urban and industrial pollution and untreated wastewater. Israel supplies some water, but this is insufficient, so there are serious problems with both quantity and quality of water. According to the United Nations:

The increasing population and unsustain- able demands on Gaza’s sole water source due to systematic over-extraction of the underlying coastal aquifer has resulted in the intrusion of seawater and in 96.2% of the groundwater in Gaza becoming unfit for human consumption – up from 90% in 2012.

According to the World Bank, the water supplied by tap to homes is unsafe to drink and can only be used for general non-consumptive use. Safe drinking water must be purchased at a higher cost from trucks bringing treated water from small private desalination systems. Gaza uses 2 million cubic metres of water per year: approximately 100 m3/person/year.

A partial solution to the Gaza water crisis is the development of a new desalination facility, which is labelled as a UfM project. The aim is to provide safe drink- ing water for more than two million people and to decrease the pumping demands on the aquifer, which in turn can help the small Gazan agricultural and tourism sectors.

The project has three main components:

► Construction of the seawater desalination plant with an initial capacity of 55 million cubic metres/year, growing to 100 million cubic metres/year.

► Construction of a new north-south delivery system to carry water throughout the Strip and with much reduced leakage losses compared to the existing network.

► Planning to reduce ‘non-revenue’ water losses, including leaks and unauthorised connections.

An important additional benefit of the project is job creation. As the largest infrastructure project in Gaza to date, it provides opportunities during construction and for ongoing operations.

The first phase of a small-scale low-volume plant run by UNICEF and funded by the EU was officially inaugurated in January 2017 and initially provided water to around 75,000 inhabitants. The next phase is due to serve an additional 150,000 people, so there is still some way to go to serve the target of two million people, but illustrates that with political will water can be brought to meet Gazans needs.

The success of a project of this size requires the support and cooperation of multiple international stakeholders. The UfM-labelled endorsement as the main facilitator is invaluable, but many implementation hurdles remain, including external financing. In addition to the technical design and construction aspects, the project includes a governance framework to support its ongoing successful implementation and operation.

Only 10% of Gaza’s population has access to safe drinking water, compared to 90% in the West Bank or about 85% in MENA in general.

Source: World Bank 2016


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