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Water for Gazans

Interview: Irene Quaile
August 15, 2014

Thousands of people in Gaza are without water in the wake of repeated Israeli airstrikes. Environmental scientist and water expert Amir Dakkak tells DW why Gaza needs the chance to manage its own scarce water supply.

Gaza August 2014 Jabalia refugee camp
Image: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

DW: How has the current bombardment affected water infrastructure and supply in Gaza?

Amir Dakkak: Since July 29, almost all of the population has little or no access to clean water. Three of the five wastewater treatment plants have been hit directly. That led to sewage going into the Mediterranean Sea directly, up to 90,000 liters [24,000 gallons] per day. It has become too dangerous for workers to perform any maintenance on the damaged water infrastructure, so they can't repair it and provide clean water to the public. A lot of the water infrastructure had already been affected by earlier bombing in 2012, 2008 and 2009.

One of the biggest factors in the water situation is scarcity of fuel and energy sources, because even if there were desalination plants to provide drinking water, and wastewater treatment plants, these need a lot of electricity - which Gaza doesn't have. Especially now that their only electricity plant has been hit. People can't live without food and energy.

So a lot of the problem is related to the air strikes. But didn't the region already have a huge water scarcity problem?

Even before the latest bombardment, Gaza had problems with water scarcity. They only have one underground aquifer, the coastal aquifer. Ninety-five percent of the water is unusable because there's a lot of pollution from sewage, seawater and agricultural runoff. Gaza is only responsible for 26 percent of all withdrawal from the aquifer. Israel is the biggest user, accounting for about 66 percent of the water extracted.

Amir Dakkak, Palestinian Environment Scientist
Amir Dakkak is seeking solutions to water scarcityImage: privat

The Palestinian Water Authority in Gaza has been buying water from Israel and other places, almost 56 million cubic meters [45,400 acre-feet] per year, just to offset the deficit because we can't supply most of the water from the aquifer we have.

Gaza is a very hard place to live. According to the UN, by 2016 it could become unlivable because all the water will be polluted. That would lead to a spread of disease. There are already a lot of cases of diarrhea, lice and fever across Gaza right now.

So what has to happen to prevent that?

The only viable way is to allow Gaza to maintain its own water supply. If the illegal blockade of Gaza is lifted, they can bring in material to fix the infrastructure. There's a lot of funding from NGOs outside Gaza, from Germany, the Netherlands and Qatar, for instance. They all give funding to create desalination plants, which would ease the water shortage. They will also fund waste water treatment plants.

But all that funding goes to waste, because every time they try to build something, it gets destroyed and they can't maintain it. Peace is the only solution, because they have to be able to maintain the infrastructure to have water.

Gaza destructin, 14.08.2014
Amidst bombed-out ruins, clean water is scarceImage: Getty Images

It takes both sides to make peace. Wouldn't Israel say the solution is also in the hands of the Palestinians?

Of course. Israel says the whole blockade is about Hamas. But in reality the Palestinians in Gaza have been asking Israel to lift the blockade and have the UN monitor all the borders of Gaza. If the UN monitors it, in my opinion, that would remove the threat from Hamas. You would have the UN monitoring all movements in and out of Gaza.

So do you think that ultimately, the problem of water scarcity cannot be solved without a political solution to the conflict?

Of course. Everything in that region is connected to politics. If you want water you need to be able to control your own supply, be able to maintain it, bring in new technology and educate workers to operate it. Without that, you can't provide water.

Amir Dakkak is a Palestinian Environmental Scientist, educated in Edinburgh, Scotland and currently living in Dubai. He runs his own website WaterSource addressing the water scarcity problem across the Middle East and North Africa.

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