Advisor, Water Research Program

Water problem is a grave concern in Gaza Strip. In addition to long-lasting difficulties associated with various aspects of water, including limited resources, demographic pressures, pollution, and wasteful use; the region is now increasingly threatened by water infrastructure damage caused by continued se-ries of armed conflicts and bombings.

The main water resource of Gaza is known to be the coastal aquifer. It has been excessively exploited for decades. As a result, the groundwater level has reduced to critical edge which causes the seawater intrusion to the aquifer. It has been reported that the usage of coastal aquifer triples the natural rate of replenishment of 60 million cubic meters per year. Exhausting this vital water resource should soon be stopped. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Palestinian Water Authority have even stated that the coastal aquifer has already passed “the point of no return” and will not be available for water pumping after 2016. UNEP had recommended before the recent water crisis hit Gaza, as early as in 2009, that the water use from coastal aquifer should cease. Therefore, coastal aquifer could be re-charged -if possible- and reserved as a water resource for drought times, at best. Foreign donors like Turkey, via Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (Turkish acronym TIKA) tried to increase the supply of groundwater through digging new wells. However, according to the Palestinian Water Authori-ty, most of Gaza’s groundwater do not comply with globally accepted criteria of cleanliness of water, and thus, is unusable. Then, given the current framework of use and limitations, groundwater can no longer be the main source of water in Gaza. Efforts should be concentrated elsewhere.

Gaza also gets water from Israeli national water company Mekorot which sells 4-5 million cubic meters of water to Gaza annually. However, it has been stated elsewhere that the depreciation rate of water infrastructure in Gaza is alarming when compared to figures in Israeli cities which decimates the water available for use in Gaza. Beyond this, although a significant improvement occurred in recent years, approximately three percent of Gazans still do not have tap water, according to United Nations statis-tics. Another problem associated with the bad condition of water infrastructure in Gaza Strip is the pol-lution problem which is caused by leakages of pollutants into aquifers. The appalling situation of the water infrastructure in Gaza was illustrated by its incapacity to deal with a heavy rainfall in past year. The prolonged Israeli offensive during summer of 2014 was catastrophic in terms of the damage caused to water infrastructure. As of late 2014, tap water is accessible only for several hours a day, and several days a week. So, unless the water infrastructure is developed to a degree of efficiency and soundness which is both acceptable and sustainable by universal standards; water imports, too, cannot solve the crisis of water in Gaza.

In a water scarce region like Gaza, wastewater treatment and reuse is of utmost importance. But this has not been realized at desired levels. One of the main reasons is the energy problem. Treatment of wastewater requires electricity, something Gaza is in dire need of. Generally, wastewater treatment cy-cles lasts for a fortnight requiring continuous supply of electricity. The electricity problem has further aggravated in recent years due to bombardments and subsequent damage to energy network. It is known that the electricity supply in Gaza could only meet 70 percent of current demand. Electricity is also very crucial considering the desalination as an alternative way of water supply. Each day new de-salination units are being established in Gaza, which further increase the need for electricity. Therefore, sustainable and uninterrupted supply of electricity could be one flank of water solution in Gaza. In other words, electricity means “virtual water’ in the context of Gaza. From the pessimistic side, though, Gaza remains highly dependent on outside sources for electricity supply.

In short, establishing a modern water infrastructure and finding new sources of electricity could amelio-rate current water problems for people in Gaza. Instead of trying to increase water supply though new water wells, most of the funds should be allocated to repair of the damaged infrastructure. Also, syner-gistic solutions which would utilize other regional power resources (i.e. electricity trade among regional countries) may, not only help Gaza’s water problem, but may also contribute to trust building processes in the region at large. A cooperative scheme among the European Union (particularly Southern Cy-prus), Turkey and Lebanon may produce an excellent model for further cooperation. Not to mention the pivotal roles to be played by Egypt and/or Israel in relieving the electricity (also read ‘water’) stress in Gaza. Also, relatively unconventional electricity production methods such as solar or wind should be considered more seriously.