Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Date: 21 Mar 2011

21-03-2011 News Release 11/64

Geneva/Jerusalem (ICRC) – Large numbers of people living in the Gaza Strip remain at risk of contracting water-borne disease because of insufficient and poorly maintained wastewater treatment systems.

See also TV news footage: Gazans struggle for access to clean water

Only long-term development of the deteriorated water and sanitation sector can help reduce the risk to public health and the environment, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today in the run-up to World Water Day (22 March).

With the inauguration on 24 March in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah of a wastewater treatment plant, the ICRC is hoping to provide a long-term solution to the problem of water shortages through better management of the available water resources. The plant, which is being constructed in cooperation with the Coastal Municipal Water Utility and the city of Rafah, will serve 180,000 people. An innovative technology reducing contamination by up to 90 per cent has been used to transform wastewater into a resource clean enough to be used in irrigation.

“Over-population in the Gaza Strip, over-consumption of fresh-water sources and under-treatment of the wastewater produced by hundreds of thousands of people add up to a serious threat to the environment and to public health,” explained Juan Pedro Schaerer, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.

“Governments and other authorities should ensure that people in conflict zones have access to safe water, decent sanitation and suitable environmental health conditions,” he added. Local efforts to provide even the most basic services are hampered by restrictions on the importation of building materials imposed by the Israeli authorities since June 2007. Although the restrictions have been eased over the past year, there are still too few spare parts and building materials entering the Strip. Because of the restrictions, work on the plant had to begin in 2008 using concrete blocks recovered from the dismantled wall separating Gaza and Egypt as a substitute for cement.

“This project combines a number of innovative environmental approaches with low construction and operating costs,” said Monther I. Shoblak, general director of the Coastal Municipal Water Utility. “The wastewater treatment technology used here enables us to harness treated water as a resource for agriculture and to replenish the water table.”

The water and sanitation situation in the Gaza Strip remains a cause for concern, however. “The ICRC will continue to monitor the situation closely,” said ICRC engineer Marco Albertini. “We will provide wastewater management techniques that will help prevent health hazards from developing while also reducing damage to the environment.”

Media are invited to attend the inauguration in Rafah on 24 March 2011.

For further information, please contact:

Umar Phiri, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 599 60 30 15

Cecilia Goin, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 50

Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 48

Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18