More than 90 percent of the Gaza Strip’s water is undrinkable. The rest is quickly running out. A combination of factors is rapidly depriving the population of this most basic of needs. RT investigated day-to-day life under these conditions.
Just one fresh water source exists today, according to the locals – a coastal aquifer beneath the ground that is shared with Israel and Egypt. But Gaza is situated downstream from Israel, and Palestinians accuse the Jewish state of using the situation to its advantage, employing water deprivation as a tactic against the civilian population.
The grim water statistics are part of a recent UN report on Gaza, which says the strip will become uninhabitable by 2020. A number of reasons compound the problems, according to the document by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The Gaza Strip’s GDP dropped 15 percent in 2014, with 72 percent of households suffering extremely low food security and unemployment at a record high of 44 percent. Further stress was added by relentless IDF assaults. With three military operations in the last six years, coupled with eight years of economic blockade, prospects for recovery are looking very bleak.
The UN says that 500,000 people have been displaced in Gaza as a result of last year’s IDF operation alone. More than 20,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed, and 148 schools and 15 hospitals and 45 primary health-care centers were severely damaged. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
But worse still is when the populace is deprived of the prime source of life – water. Without it, no reconstruction and no rebuilding of lives can take place. Medicine, sanitation, hygiene and crucial facilities that depend on water all suffer.
RT investigated the extent of the hardship under these conditions.
“We can’t drink it, cook with it, or wash in the kitchen with it… we are forced to buy all the clean water separately,” said Umm Ibrahim Amna Abdel’al, as she stood in her kitchen, little more four bare cement walls and a sink.
A delivery pickup truck trundled through the streets outside with a water tank sitting in the back.
“The last war on Gaza, of course, resulted in the destruction of some of the infrastructure, the water holes and the pumping stations were [heavily hit.] More than 50 percent of the water infrastructure could not be accessed,” said Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD’s special coordinator for assistance to the Palestinian people.
“Part, of course, vanished,” he added.
RT’s Lizzie Phelan tasted what remains of the Strip’s water for herself: “This coffee tastes like it has salt not sugar in it. That’s because the water that’s used to wash it – like much of Gaza’s water – is contaminated with sea water.”
The woman went on to describe how “tiny kids suffer from cramps and colic” – a syndrome commonly associated with stomach infections.
“See my hand?” she pointed to the irritated skin on her palm. “It is because of the salty water. I have a skin infection. The water is full of salt. It is like sewage.”
And salt isn’t the only problem. The water coming into homes is also full of nitrate – a carcinogenic. The levels rose even higher last year, during Israel’s bombardment of sewage pipes and clean water pipes. Now, the two chemicals have mixed.
But even though the water is filthy, Gazans pay an exorbitantly for it.
Elkhafif put it bluntly: “Gaza suffers a catastrophic issue with water quality and water supply. And it’s a shame on the world that they are still watching this.”
Unless the situation is resolved, the Strip stands on the brink of a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe much greater than any airstrikes can cause.
Making Gaza livable again: lift blockade, allow reconstruction materials, prevent new military ops
The situation in Gaza is very bleak today and if the trend of destruction and debilitated infrastructure continue, living conditions there will be subhuman in about five years, says Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD’s special coordinator for assistance to the Palestinian people.
Wars and destruction could soon make Gaza uninhabitable if nothing is done to reverse the consequences of conflict. The UN is warning that Gaza’s economy is close to being unviable and that could lead to more conflict, poverty and unemployment. The UN report also highlights a number of other issues such as increased population density, a shortage of electricity and most alarmingly a shortage of clean water.
RT: What are the most important factors which make life in Gaza unbearable?
Mahmoud Elkhafif: In the Gaza Strip the most important factor actually is that Gaza, where 1.8 million human beings live, is under an almost complete economic siege since 2007, meaning that only essential humanitarian supplies are allowed in. [Also], in the last six years Gaza experienced three major full scale military operations which led to major destruction of the infrastructure – water, sanitation, electricity, hospitals, schools and housing. We have about 20,000 housing units completely damaged; 50,000 are partially damaged. Almost all the industry, all the small workshops and factories are not operating anymore. So the situation in Gaza is very bleak; nothing serious in terms of reconstructing and rehabilitating Gaza so that Gaza is able to produce again – nothing has been done. What we are saying is that if these trends continue to be, the situation will get worse and worse to the extent that the living conditions will be more or less subhuman conditions.
RT: What about basic supplies of food and water?
ME: I don’t have exact figures and that’s not the intention or the task of our report, but we indicated that 95 percent of Gaza’s drinkable water is not drinkable anymore. The food of course is in short supply. The fishing industry [has been] under siege for a long time, because the Israeli authorities are not allowing Palestinian fishermen to fish in the normal 20 nautical miles, but actually they restrict them to about three miles only in instead of 20 miles. I think they have increased [that limit] now maybe to five miles or so. And even so the fishing harvest is very small because actual sewage system is being injected into the sea and that basically spoils the sea water and fish get sick or go away from this neighborhood.
Just because of the war agriculture lost about half a billion dollars of its GDP or value added. Palestinian farmers in Gaza are not allowed to farm about one kilometer away from the border with Israel – so you can imagine how much of the agricultural area which can be cultivated has been reduced or contracted. So food is in short supply and the indication about that is basically the food insecurity, about 72 percent of Palestinian households in Gaza are food insecure. It means that the level of food, the food intake is not enough and even the quality of the food intake is not enough.
RT: How many people have managed to escape the area?
ME: I have no figures about that, but I know about the Palestinians – they don’t like to leave their homes. But like any human beings when you live under such conditions or if anybody is threatened to die, he will try to flee to protect him and his family. There is no kind of statistics that indicates that Palestinians want to leave Gaza, we didn’t mean that by our heading. What we are saying is that if these trends of destruction and debilitated infrastructure continue, Gaza living conditions will be subhuman in about five years. As a matter of fact, this heading goes back to a report written by our colleague back in 2012 and that was the assessment before the war. So what we are saying in out report – imagine if that was a case in 2012, imagine what would be the case after what happened in 2014 after… after half a million human beings have been displaced…
RT: What should be done in the first place to make the Gaza area livable again?
ME: I think what should be done is basically a reverse or remedy what has been done. Number one – lifting the blockade, number two – allowing the reconstruction material to move into Gaza and number three – not to go into another war or a full scale military operation. So if lifting the blockade is one thing, the second point would be allowing reconstruction material. In this regard what we are saying is that there is a treaty called Movement and Access Agreement [Agreement on Movement and Access] which was signed by the Palestinian side and the Israeli side back in 2005. What UNCTAD is recommending is reactivate, make this agreement operational. The agreement calls mainly for three points. Number one – reconnect Gaza with the West Bank as one economy, reconnect Gaza with the rest of the world. Number two – to construct Gaza’s sea port; number three – to start negotiating on the construction and establishment of Gaza airport. This is the only way to help Gaza to get out of it.
RT: How much time will it take to make the Gaza area livable again?
ME: It shouldn’t take long, but the most important thing is – once you lift the blockade, the people will have hope…The Palestinian…people are able to feed themselves if they are given the opportunity, if they are not put under such conditions [as they are now]. The Palestinian people are very dynamic …so the most important thing is to give people some hope and to allow them to go back and to reconstruct, rehabilitate their own lives.