Attack on water brings sanitation crisis
While diminishing water resources are a global concern, in
Mohamed Ahmed, director of the Water Control Department in the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), says "there continues to be a very rapid depletion and deterioration of ground water."
The main source of water is the coastal aquifer and ground water, which serves
The destruction caused by Israeli shelling, tanks and bulldozers throughout the Strip further damaged Gaza's sanitation network, causing 150,000 cubic meters of untreated and partially treated sewage waste water to flow over agricultural and residential land and into the sea during the attacks. The daily average of wastewater being pumped into the sea is still a staggering 80,000 cubic meters.
The water treatment crisis has been a catastrophe in the making for decades. In 2004, a report on water alternatives published by the Islamic University of Gaza's Department of Environment and Earth Science said groundwater had already "deteriorated to a limit that the municipal tap water became brackish and unsuitable for human consumption" throughout the Strip.
Techniques introduced for improving water quality included desalination and reverse osmosis, importing bottled water, and collecting rain water. But these initiatives have been rendered increasingly futile in the face of years of Israeli assaults on
The siege has meant an increasingly long waiting list of spare parts, pipes, and building materials. This directly affects
"We've been waiting for three years for these items to enter, along with desalination units," says Ibrahim Alejla, media officer for
In its January 2009 Damage Assessment Report, CMWU speaks of 5.97 million dollars damage to
Government sources say that more than 800 of
The CMWU says it had provided coordinates for all water and wastewater facilities to Israeli authorities. Yet throughout
The PWA's Mohamed Ahmed says the sandy nature of the Sheikh Rajleen region brought wastewater permeation into ground water. "Areas with clay and soil tend to slow the drainage, but in Sheikh Rajleen the sewage water very quickly drained into the ground water."
Ahmed says "we've found the presence of detergents in our monitoring wells, indicating that wastewater and ground water have mixed." Monther Shoblak, CMWU director, said this type of contamination occurred also in Beit Hanoun to the north of
Ibrahim Alejla of CMWU says the flow of sewage into the sea is not only dangerous, but wasteful. "If the borders were open, and we could get the chemicals and equipment needed to treat the water, it could be re-used in agriculture."
Mohamed Ahmed says nitrate levels have for the past two years been three times the World Health Organization (WHO) limit. Nitrates are believed to be carcinogenic.
"It is too soon to see all of the negative impacts," says Mohamed Ahmed. And with
Ahmed believes numerous chemical pollutants will be found when the tests are carried out. "The war occurred during winter, during our rainy season. When it rained, the chemicals and pollutants in the air went directly into the ground water."
The CMWU and PWA say that many of the most affected areas have had their water networks repaired. "The municipalities chlorinate water to eliminate contamination," says Ahmed. But difficulties arise when Israeli authorities prevent the entry of chlorine into
Ahmed warns of the effect on rural residents from contaminated ground water. "Many people depend on wells for their drinking water," he says.
The water problems extend beyond consumption of tainted water. The
Khaled al-Habil, a fishermen at
"If you open the fish up, they are black inside. Not like normal fish. The sewage is destroying the fish. People who swim in the water at the port, their skin becomes irritated, like a rash," al-Habil said.
"I'm a fishermen, I know fish. But there are others who don't know it's from the port, who buy and eat them," he said.