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Reportage. Gaza needs desalination plants, but the blockade is slowing progress. Meanwhile, most Gazans simply drink the contaminated water.

Only 3% of Gaza water is fit for human consumption

“Come forward, park on the right. The water tank is on that side.”

Tareq Yazji shows the tanker driver where to stop. The man stops the vehicle and with quick gestures extends a tube and hangs it to the home’s water tank. Behind it, Tarek’s children are getting ready to fill up three big canisters.

“It has been like that for years,” the man explains to us. “We have no drinking water, and we must be supplied with the tankers. The bombings [from the 2014 Gaza War] have worsened the situation. In this area, between Nusseirat and Khan Yunis, the authorities haven’t been able yet to fully repair the water supply system. In any case,” he adds, “what comes out of the taps can be only used to wash, not for drinking.”

Like most Palestinians in Gaza, Tareq, his wife and children, drink filtered water. About 85 percent of the Strip’s inhabitants depend on the 150 private installations filtering Gaza’s too salty water and making it drinkable or, to put it better, “almost” drinkable. Recent studies carried out by NGOs operating in Gaza have highlighted the fact that 46 percent of the water filtered is impure because of microorganisms present in the tankers and another 20 percent because of the tanks used by families are old and in bad condition. What remains shows other impurities.

Adding everything up, studies say that only 3 percent of the water that Palestinians in Gaza have is proper for human consumption. They drink the filtered but impure water because they have no choice. A few hundred families are wealthy enough to buy mineral water every day. Others can do it occasionally; everyone else drinks the water distributed by the tankers.

Last month, Mazin Gunaim, chief of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), revealed that by the end of this year Gaza’s aquifer won’t be usable any longer because of the concentration of salt, owing mostly to the high usage, which has handled sea water infiltrations and pollution for years. Ahmad al Yacouby, a colleague of his, warns us that the situation is extremely dire. “Water in Gaza is a huge problem with many faces,” he tells us, welcoming us in his office in Gaza city.

“There’s the issue of a largely insufficient drinkable water for 2 million people, then the issue of the filtered water which isn’t totally safe, the issue of polluted wells and, naturally, there’s the issue of non-recycled wastewater, connected to the very little electricity available and to the purifying equipment’s intermittent functioning. Every day, 90 million liters of non-recycled or partially recycled water are thrown in Gaza’s sea. Without forgetting the 120,000 inhabitants who are still disconnected from the public water supply and 23 percent of the Strip not connected to the drainage system.”

Last year the United Nations warned that Gaza might not be inhabitable by 2020. In reality, this condition can already be seen in a territory that saw three great Israeli military offensives, and other smaller ones, from 2006 to 2014, with tens of thousands of displaced people, blocked by Israel and Egypt, with unemployment levels among the highest in the world, without resources and with a population that very soon will be more than 2 million.

“Water is the more urgent issue, to which there must be a fast response,” Ahmad al Yacouby says. “At least 200 million cubic meters per year are needed. If we take into account the fact that the 55 million cubic meters in the aquifer are unusable, that we are unable to collect rainwater for various reasons and that many wells are polluted, it’s evident that the only path that can be taken is to build more desalinization installations and to recycle and purify sewage waters in order to use them in agriculture or in other fields.”

But collecting donations and financing for hundreds of millions of dollars is not easy in a complex political framework that sees most of the Western countries boycotting Hamas’ government, which governs Gaza. Moreover, the Israeli blockade on materials that, Tel Aviv claims, might be used by the Islamist movement for military aims, makes it difficult to implement projects that are minor but vitally important for the civilian population. According to EWASH, a coalition of NGOs and non-governmental associations, 30 water projects in Gaza are at risk because of the lack of equipment.

Tareq Yazji isn’t holding his breath. “There will always be very little water in Gaza, because the [Hamas] government, the one in Ramallah and the Westerners make promises, but they don’t keep them. I only know that today I have the money to buy, at least, filtered water and that my family can drink, when I won’t have them, my family will die of thirst.”