12/20/2011 04:17

PA water chief: Inequities, blockade amplify Gaza crisis; Erdan says plant unrelated to Israeli actions.
Talkbacks (11)

The European Union has launched a 10 million euro project to erect a desalination facility over the next three years in Gaza, to combat what the governing body calls “the humanitarian water crisis” in the territory.

Acting EU representative to the West Bank and Gaza, John Gatt-Rutter, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Palestinian Water Authority head Shaddad Attili last week, as well as with members of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and UNICEF.

The facility, according to the EU, will be a “medium-term intervention” and will provide safe drinking water to approximately 75,000 inhabitants of Khan Yunis and Rafah.

“As the EU has reiterated in the past, the continued policy of closure in Gaza has damaged the natural environment, notably water and other natural resources,” Gatt- Rutter said. “I hope that this intervention can bring real change for some Palestinians living under unsustainable conditions in the Strip.”

Attili praised the EU’s decision to provide these funds.

“The facility is one component of a rolling program of interventions designed to tackle Gaza’s acute water problems and save its underground aquifer from imminent collapse,” he said Sunday.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan likewise praised the EU’s decision to fund the plant, saying Monday the Israelis have been saying everywhere they want the Palestinians to build it.

“In my eyes, water should be out of the conflict,” Erdan said. “We are not trying to prevent water from the Palestinians. We want them to have all the water that they need to have.”

According to a statement, the EU has been particularly involved in recent years in improving water supply, sewage connection and wastewater treatment in both the West Bank and Gaza. In the past few years, the EU has supplied 1.3m. euros to Tulkarm and Jenin for water infrastructure, 2m. euros to Hebron for water networks, 6m. euros to emergency sewage treatment in northern Gaza and 3.5m. euros for water sanitation in Rafah and Deir el-Balah in Gaza.

In addition to promoting reforms in the Palestinian Authority water sector and aiming to foster cooperation with the corresponding bodies in Israel and Jordan, the EU is also in the process of preparing an 18m. euro treatment plant in Tubas.

In Attili’s eyes, the water situation particularly in Gaza has come to a “crisis point,” in which only 10 percent of all available water to residents there is now safe to drink. While the EU’s new project is absolutely necessary given the circumstances, however, it is only “an interim measure,” rather than a long-term solution, he warned. To achieve far-reaching results, all those involved with tackling Gaza’s water situation must combine their efforts for a series of programs and interventions, according to Attili.

“It signals the beginning of a long and difficult road ahead,” he said of the project.