The Water Crisis in Gaza
Since 1967, the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli military occupation. As a result, Palestinians in Gaza have endured many harmful policies, including the denial of their rightful share of water and restrictions on developing water systems. The only public fresh water source for the 1.5 million people living in Gaza is the Coastal Aquifer, which is shared with Israel. However, just 12 percent is used in Gaza. The rest is claimed by Israel, where people's consumption of water is more than double that of Gaza.
The shortage of clean water in Gaza has reached crisis levels. The World Health Organization estimates that less than 10 percent of publicly available water is safe to drink. The rest is contaminated with microorganisms and toxins that endanger people's lives and cause needless sickness and suffering, especially to babies and children.
Health Consequences of Gaza's declining supply of safe water
- Families in Gaza face a constant risk of waterborne diseases that are easily preventable, but are potentially deadly for children and the elderly.
- Since Operation Cast Lead, there has been a marked increase in the number of children brought into health clinics with diarrhea–a major childhood killer–caused by contaminated water (p.67).
- The risk of an outbreak of parasitic infections and Hepatitis A has also greatly increased.
- Contaminated water is associated with chronic diseases such as kidney failure, liver disease and cancer.
The Impact of Economic Blockade and War
Since June 2007, the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade, which has greatly exacerbated the water crisis. The blockade has reduced supplies of fuel needed to power water treatment plants and disrupted access to spare parts, cement and other materials needed to fortify the water infrastructure.
Israel has characterized the blockade as a security measure intended to stop rockets from being fired into Israel from Gaza. In fact, Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens from such attacks, which are a grave violation of international law. As MADRE recently argued before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Israel also has an obligation to uphold human rights in Gaza, which remains under Israeli occupation despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2005.
In late 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Gaza, killing 1300 people and severely damaging the area's rudimentary water infrastructure. Over 30 kilometers of water networks, wells and water tanks were damaged or destroyed. Since then, the US-supported economic blockade has prevented Palestinians from rebuilding the water system because raw materials and replacement parts cannot be imported.
As a result:
- Fifty to 80 million liters of partially treated sewage are released every day into the Mediterranean Sea.
- Over-extraction from the aquifer has contaminated the water with salt and nitrates.
- Mass destruction of buildings caused by the bombing has caused hazardous debris such as asbestos to be absorbed into the groundwater.
- About 60 percent of the population does not have continuous access to water.
- Clean water is sold by local vendors, but most people cannot afford to buy it.
A Matter of Human Rights
By denying civilians access to water, Israel's blockade of Gaza violates international law. As the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has said, "States�should refrain at all times from imposing embargoes or similar measures that prevent the supply of water, as well as goods and services essential for securing the right to water. Water should never be used as an instrument of political or economic pressure."
And yet that is exactly how Israel is using water in Gaza. As the Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, discovered earlier this year, the Israeli government describes the blockade as "economic warfare" against the Hamas government in Gaza.
MADRE calls for an end to the blockade of Gaza and for the universal access to safe water as a fundamental human right.
MADRE's Clean Water for Gaza Project
Working with our sister organization, the Zakher Association for the Development of Palestinian Women's Capacity, MADRE is installing 25 large water filters in the five communities of Gaza City with the worst water and highest rates of contamination. Each filter can service approximately 350 families with children. We are also installing smaller water filters in 10 kindergartens, each one serving an average of 150 girls and boys between four and five years old.