Palestinians run out of drinking water as Israeli offensive continues

written by Ghada Snunu – Gaza City

As the Israeli offensive enters its seventh day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are running out of basic necessities needed for their survival, including food and clean drinking water. Private vendors selling desalinated water have stopped delivery of water due to ongoing air strikes and fear for their safety.

Four days ago, on 18 November, an Israeli airstrike hit a water distribution truck in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, destroying it completely and killing the driver Suhail Hamada and his son.

I have approximately two days stock of drinking water and food” Mahmoud Sa’adallah,32, resident of Bait Lahia and a father of five, says – We will have no option but to drink the municipal water which is too salty”. Mahmoud doesn’t know how his children are going to survive in the coming days with the lack of basic necessities if the offensive continues. “My brother and neighbors, for whom the vendor was coming, have already started to drink from the tap”.

The vast majority of the residents of the Gaza strip rely on purchasing desalinated water from private vendors as piped water coming from Gaza’s sole source of fresh water, is too contaminated with chemicals.1

Disruption of supplies

Water supplies have been severely disrupted since the beginning of the offensive due to the destruction of water networks in different areas of the Gaza Strip, and the inability to operate water wells located in areas that are being frequently attacked by the Israeli military. As a result, around 50 thousand people were left without water for two days. An under-construction water reservoir in the middle of the Gaza strip was also destroyed. The reservoir was expected to serve 150 thousand people in the Gaza Strip.

Transportation of fuel, needed to operate water and sanitation facilities during power cuts, has been hampered by the ongoing offensive. Eng. Omar Shatat from Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) warns about environmental crisis if the offensive continues. Sewage floods are expected if maintenance staff and fuel can’t reach sewage facilities.

Israel as the occupying power has the obligation to ensure that Palestinians have access to sufficient clean water, among other basic necessities. Also Israel during wartime has the obligation not to target civilian objects that are indispensable to the survival of civilian populations, including water facilities. Israel has constantly violated its obligations under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. During Israel’s military operation “Cast Lead” on December 27, 2008 alone, Gaza witnessed untold damage to water-related infrastructure with destruction of water wells, water and sewage networks, water tanks, household connections and waste water treatment plants. This made 500,000 residents of Gaza (one third of the entire population) lose complete access to clean running water and another 500,000 have access to water only several hours each week during the offensive.2

Crumbling infrastructure

Israel’s destruction of infrastructure has brought to the brink of collapse the water and sanitation sector which was already dire after years of blockade. The destruction of the sewage system led to mass amounts of sewage flooding into ground water, which was already threatened by pollution, over-abstraction, intrusion of sea water. 90 million liters of sewage are now being discharged daily to the sea as the current waste water treatment plants are working beyond their designed capacity.3 90 percent of the Coastal Aquifer is now unfit for human consumption and it is expected to become completely unusable by 2016, and the situation will be irreversible by 2020 if no action is taken.4

Improving the water situation in Gaza remains very difficult since Israel prevents the entry of the materials needed for essential WASH projects. A year has passed since Israel declared the ease of the blockade. However, less than a fifth of WASH materials have been allowed in. Add to that the lack of fuel and the power cuts which affect the operation of the water and sanitation system.5

1. EWASH Advocacy Task Force, “Factsheet 3: water quality in the gaze Strip”, 2011.

2. OCHA, “The Humanitarian Monitor: occupied Palestinian territories.” No. 33 January 2009, pp. 8

<http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_humanitarian_monitor_2008_12_1_15_english.pdf>

3 EWASH Advocacy Task Force, “Factsheet 3: water quality in the Gaza Strip”, 2011.

4.Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process “Gaza in 2020, A liveable place?”, 2012.

5. EWASH Advocacy Task Force, “Down the drain: Israeli restrictions on the WASH sector in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and their impact on vulnerable communities”, 2012.

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