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.