On Our Doorstep – the Gaza Water and Energy Crisis, Scenarios

November 12, 2015

As part of the Haaretz Peace Conference held today (Nov 12) in Tel Aviv, EcoPeace Middle East and the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) held a high level panel on the water, sanitation and energy crisis in Gaza and its geopolitical implications. The panel focused on the humanitarian crises facing 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, that if not urgently dealt with is likely to lead to a health, environment and security crises region wide.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of EcoPeace Middle East and co-organizer of the event called on the Israeli government to help the international community advance real solutions on the ground. “Israel needs to double again the water it sells to Gaza from 10 to 20 million cubic meters as well as sell enough electricity to power the newly built sewage treatment plant in northern Gaza. It’s a matter of urgency, failure to do so is shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Dr.Mahmoud Daher, the Head of the World Health Organization Gaza sub-office stated, “today almost all of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. There is evidence of Polio in the sewage, and our capacity for dealing with pandemics is low.”

Dave Harden, USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission Director said, “During the last Gaza-Israel war in the summer of 2014 the water and electricity shortage was so bad we were lucky tens of thousands of people did not die due to catastrophic conditions that could have led to an outbreak of pandemics. We may not be so lucky next time”.

Steen Jorgensen, Country Director for West Bank and Gaza, said, “Regarding the energy and sewage treatment crisis, all the sewage from Gaza finds its way to Israeli beaches. Israel has the power to prevent the pollution of its own beaches by delivering electricity that will power the newly built waste water treatment plant. It is important to understand that donor states are no longer willing to invest the money needed in desalination and sewage treatment in Gaza while Israel is not willing to help secure the 3 MW of electricity required for the north Gaza emergency sewage treatment plant .

Former Israeli Ambassador and Senior Researcher at the INSS, Dr. Oded Eran noted that “7 years were wasted trying to reach a final status agreement. Instead we should have tried to reach agreements on specific issues like water and sanitation, that would have improved the situation on the ground. Israel can afford to be generous on water, we should have therefore started here in order to build trust with the Palestinians”.

MK Omer Bar Lev said, “Israel should, in the short term, double the volume of water it sells to Gaza but in the long term Gaza must have large scale desalination in place”. He added that he did not think the Israelis and Palestinians would reach an overall final status agreement in the near future.

For more information please contact Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director, EcoPeace Middle East at 052-453-2597

The Coastal Aquifer supplies 95% of Gaza’s water, and is in a state of extreme overuse with water extraction rates three times the renewable supply. As a result, seawater infiltrates into the aquifer, and salinity levels have thus risen well beyond WHO guidelines for safe drinking water, seriously threatening public health. This situation is compounded by contamination of the aquifer by nitrates from untreated and poorly treated sewage and fertilizers over used for agriculture. Today, over 95% of the aquifer is unsafe for human consumption without pre-treatment. Gaza’s 1.8 million residents are increasingly dependent on desalination of brackish water and over-priced bottled water. Insufficient energy production for large-scale seawater desalination and sewage treatment means that otherwise effective solutions are unavailable to meet public needs. The situation has been further exacerbated by the war between Hamas and Israel in July-August 2014

The implications for Gazans, in every aspect of life in the Strip, is dire. But the impact of the crisis does not stop at the border. 90,000 million cubic meters of sewage flow daily into the Mediterranean Sea, carried north easterly to the beaches of Israel. The risk of pandemics is real, endangering the health of Gazans and Israelis alike. Most importantly, 1.8 million thirsty, disparate people on the other side of the border are a ticking time bomb that Israel cannot afford to ignore. It therefore has a vested interest in cooperating with the Palestinians and the international community to alleviate the water shortage by increasing the volume of water it currently sells to Gaza, and by helping in securing energy sources for long term solutions.

Panelists today at the EcoPeace-INSS event included the World Bank’s West Bank and Gaza Country Director Steen Jorgensen; USAID’s West Bank and Gaza Mission Director Dave Harden; The World Health Organization’s Gaza sub office Representative Dr. Mahmoud Daher; Member of Knesset (Labor Party) Omer Bar Lev; and Head of the Middle East Studies Program at IDC Herziliya Prof. Shaul Mishal. Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director, EcoPeace Middle East, and Amb. (Ret) Dr. Oded Eran, Senior Research Fellow at the INSS moderated the panel.