The United Nations has warned that the Gaza Strip, the small slice of land bordering Egypt and Israel that has been the scene of so much political tension, could be “uninhabitable” as soon as 2016 if serious action isn’t taken to address a chronic water shortage, The Independent reports. If that happens, where will its 1.6 million residents go?
Up to 95 percent of the coastal aquifer that supplies the Gaza Strip’s water has been contaminated with chemicals, saltwater and sewage, according to The Independent. Already the number of children being treated for diarrhea has doubled in the past five years, a Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians report shows.
The aquifer’s remaining five percent, the clean water, can really only be used for washing since it too ends up being contaminated in distribution pipes.
Desalination and public taps are an option for a small portion of the population, but the great majority of people have to pay for bottled water to satisfy their barest requirements.
“Families are paying as much as a third of their household income for water,” June Kunugi, a special representative of the UN children’s fund Unicef, told the paper.
The aquifer is unable to recover despite rainfall and runoff from the nearby Hebron Hills, since Gaza residents and Israeli farmers suck out more than double the amount of water seeping back in. As a result, seawater contaminated with sewage infiltrates the aquifer.
By 2016, the aquifer will be unusable, according to the UN, and by 2020, it could be lost for good unless action is taken now to address the problems.
Even though desalination plants are not feasible over the long term, they can produce vast quantities of potable water that will serve the local population. But these cost money to build and money to maintain and Gaza doesn’t have of that going around.
Foreign aid organizations offer the only real hope, and even Israel is scouting potential investors, a senior security official told The Independent on condition of anonymity.
“We have talked to everyone we know in the international community because 1.4 million people will be without water in a few years,” he said.
The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) has plans to build a large desalination facility that could cater to more people, but it would cost nearly $500 million. Last year Europe announced it would help to finance a new plant with a 100 million cubic meter annual production capacity, but it is unclear whether that plan is still on the shelf.
Plus, as we’ve reported in the past, desalination plants require a lot of energy to run, so unless Masdar perfects its renewably-powered desalination plants in a big hurry, there’s a chance Gaza won’t be able to afford the fuel to power this and other plants.
A host of countries in the region face a fuel and water shortage, including Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan. The Gulf countries aren’t short on fuel, though it’s not as abundant as it once was, but the majority of them have the cash flow to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve dug themselves.
Combine this with deadlocked politics and we have a potential humanitarian crisis on our hands.
Image of Gaza fisherman, Shutterstock