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ICRC: Israel offensive has left Gaza water unsafe for drinking

March 25, 2015 5:59 P.M. (Updated: March 27, 2015 9:04 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel's offensive on Gaza last summer caused lasting and extensive damage to water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure in Gaza, according to a recent report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Damage caused to water supply systems by successive rounds of fighting have seriously reduced the territory's water storage capacity, primarily in reservoirs and water tanks, and caused significant wastewater leakage, the ICRC report explained.

As a result, Gaza residents face high risks of further contamination of groundwater, the very source of water that Gazans use for domestic and agricultural uses.

The report added that 14 technicians from the water and energy sector were killed during the conflict, at least eight of which were killed while undertaking emergency repairs in conflict areas.

In Beit Hanoun, a town of 50,000 people in northern Gaza, damage to sewage infrastructure and water supply infrastructure poses a serious health risk to residents.

"In the past, we had water for two hours each day," Mohamed Jarad, a resident of Beit Hanoun, adding that due to electricity cuts of up to six hours, often there is access to water but no electricity to pump it.

"The kids cannot drink or shower. As for the sewage system, the pipelines broke during the war. The sewage flooded, bringing mosquitoes. Our kids cannot sleep at night."

The lack of wastewater treatment in Gaza is a longstanding factor in the contamination of drinking water.

90-95 percent of Gaza's main water supply was not potable and unsuitable for agricultural use in Sept. 2014, according to Israeli human rights organization B'tselem.

A report by Palestinian water authorities released earlier this week said only 5.8 percent of households in Gaza considered water quality to be good in 2013, compared to 73.5 percent in the West Bank.

Despite a massive outpouring of promises by the international community to rebuild Gaza following the last war, only 5 percent of the $5.4 billion pledged by international donors had reached Gaza by February 2015, reported humanitarian news service IRIN.

Israeli control of water

While Gazans face major risks to their water supply due to war-damaged infrastructure, availability of usable water for Palestinians is hindered across both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip due to Israeli control over water access.

Israeli authorities have controlled all sources of water in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, and have implemented policies based on discriminatory allocation of water resources in the West Bank ever since, according to Israeli human rights organization B'tselem.

The Palestinian Water Authority and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics released a statement on March 23 in honor of World Water Day condemning Israeli occupation of natural water sources.

"Palestine suffers from the unfair distribution of water sources, which remain under almost full Israeli control. As an evidence to this inequality, the Israeli daily share per capita of water consumption reached seven times higher than the Palestinian's," the groups said in a shared statement.

According to international law, which calls for an equitable and reasonable allocation of the region's shared freshwater resources, Palestinians have a legal right to the three water sources in the area: the groundwater reservoir of the Mountain Aquifer, the Gaza Strip Coastal Aquifer and the Jordan River.

Regardless of this, Palestinians have no control over access to these water sources.

For example, 80 percent of the Mountain Aquifer lies under the West Bank. Despite this, a large portion of the water from the aquifer goes directly to Israelis, serving 50 percent of Israelis' personal water needs, according to Israeli watchdog Who Profits.

Furthermore, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are forced to buy over 50 percent of their water from the Israeli company Merekot.

In effect, due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to water resources under their own feet, Palestinians are forced to buy their own water back from Israeli companies at marked up prices.

An international boycott of Merekot has been underway for over a year, in effort to influence Israeli policy on natural resource distribution policies.
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