Israeli, Palestinian experts say Gaza Strip residents facing growing water shortage. ‘Environment is still a hostage of politics,’ expert says

The Media Line 01.29.14

The 1.7 million residents of the Gaza Strip are facing a growing water shortage, according to Israeli and Palestinian experts who presented their findings at a conference of Friends of the Earth Middle East. They reported that every day, sewage from Gaza flows into the Mediterranean Sea, and the aquifer beneath Gaza becomes more saline.

“It’s a nightmare,” Gidon Bromberg, the Israel Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East told The Media Line. “The Gaza aquifer is near collapse and if they continue pumping, it will be irreversibly destroyed.”

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Bromberg said that some 90 percent of the drinking water in Gaza has higher levels of salinity than is recommended by the World Health Organization, as well as an increasing level of water-borne disease. If pumping continues at this rate, he said, within two years there will be no usable water in Gaza.

The situation in Gaza is part of the reason Friends of the Earth is kicking off a new campaign called “Water Can’t Wait” with newspaper ads and billboards calling on Israelis and Palestinians to focus on environmental issues even before political issues. The organization is investing half a million dollars in large ads and billboards around Israel.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu, Chairman Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ), and Secretary (of State John) Kerry: pollution crosses border. Time is running out. We must have a solution to water and environmental problems,” the ads read, featuring a water glass in the shape of an hourglass.

The campaign was launched at a conference in Tel Aviv with Israeli and Palestinian experts, as well as Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni .

“It should be a common interest to work together, to share water, to work together toward improving the environment,” Livni, who serves as Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, told the crowd of several hundred. “Yet, the fact that we have this conflict going on for so many years prevents solving these issues.”

Both sides are waiting for US Secretary of State Kerry’s “framework agreement” which is meant to offer a plan for solving all outstanding issues including the water issue. But even if Israelis and Palestinians adopt the Kerry plan, which seems doubtful based on comments from officials on both sides, it will take a long time to implement.

At the conference, Dr. Muhammad Hmaidi, former director-general of the Palestinian Environment Ministry, lamented that the “environment is still a hostage of politics.”

“We all believe that the scarcity of natural resources, the need to protect the environment, Mother Nature, cannot wait any longer,” he added. “Let us put hands together and protect the environment before it is too late.”

In Israel, some 70 percent of sewage is treated and re-used in agriculture. Israel has also built several large desalination plants and has averted a potential water crisis. Palestinians, however, in both the West Bank and Gaza, face a growing water crisis.

“In Gaza, the first desalination plant built by the World Bank was completed in October of last year,” Bromberg said. “But the tragedy is that it has no electricity to run it. So tens of millions of cubic meters of sewage are seeping into the Mediterranean each year. This is a perfect example of why water and the environment can’t wait.”

Water issues between Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to be worked out in a joint water committee, staffed by experts. But that committee has not met in two years, and there is growing need for water in Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

However, the water news is not all bad. During the years of negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s Israel built a pipeline to supply water to Gaza but did not connect it. After Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority did not want to pay for Gaza’s water, due to Fatah’s rivalry with Hamas.

Since the start of Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy last July, Israel and the Palestinians have reached an agreement to connect the pipeline and provide the Gaza Strip with 10 million cubic meters of water annually. However, that is only a fraction of the 50-60 million cubic meters that Gaza uses each year.

Article by Adam Nicky

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line,7340,L-4482619,00.html
In Gaza, water – and time – are running out

Experts say Gaza water shortage likely to bring about illness.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jan. 28, 2014

The Gaza Strip is facing a severe shortage of potable water and immediate action is necessary, Israeli and Palestinian experts said Monday.

Without the provision of water to meet basic needs in the near future, Gaza could see a spike in diseases due to the reduction in the quality of water available, the environmental and water experts warned at a conference hosted by Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum.

A collaboration by Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Institute for National Security Studies, the conference focused on including environmental and water issues in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Among the participants was Prof. Uri Shani, former head of the Water Authority and current Israeli representative in the talks with the Palestinians and Jordanians on water. Shani said Gaza already has a high rate of water pollution-related childhood illnesses, which threaten to cross over to Israel as well. Shani said the international project to establish a desalination plant for Gaza would take years to complete and warned that an additional supply of water is needed now.

Another participant in the conference was Dr. Mohammed al-Hamidi, former director of the Environment Ministry in the Palestinian Authority and now a private environmental consultant. He said there are types of desalination plants that could be set up more quickly if Israel were more flexible and did not hold up permits for their construction. He agreed with Shani that regardless of the progress on the peace process, there was an urgent need to alleviate the water shortage in Gaza.

“Hamas is not working to solve the water problem. Israel has ignored it too, and so far has not kept its promises to increase the water supply,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, after the conference. “In addition, there are problems with the electricity supply in the Gaza Strip, which makes it difficult to construct desalination or sewage treatment facilities. We are facing a disaster, since in a little while there will be no water in Gaza. No fence will stop a million and a half people – with no reprieve offered by Hamas – who will try to reach Israel so that they will have water to drink.”

The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are almost completely dependent on water from the southern coastal aquifer. But increased demand is depleting the aquifer, and it is increasingly vulnerable to penetration by seawater and saltwater penetration from deep layers of soil. In addition, with the lack of treatment facilities sewage is trickling through the soil and threatening contamination.

The demand for water in the Gaza Strip is expected to increase by 60 percent by the end of the decade. According to UN estimates, only one-tenth of the drinking water in Gaza meets the sanitation standards set by the World Health Organization. The WHO estimates that as early as 2016, the groundwater will be unusable, and the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip will be left without a source of water.