The Right to Water in Palestine

Without power and sanitation, Gazans face water crisis

A version of this piece originally appeared in Common Dreams.

After almost three weeks of bombing, the death toll in Gaza rose to more than 1,030 on Sunday. The Palestinian poet Jehan Bseiso writes, "There’s more blood than water today in Gaza."

Haaretz notes, "After two and a half weeks of bombardments from the air and ground, roughly two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s inhabitants — 1.2 million people — are suffering from severe disruptions to the water and sewage systems, according to Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene, a coalition of around 40 humanitarian groups operating in the occupied territories. In addition to the damage of the central pipeline and the reservoirs — which affects cities and villages throughout Gaza — home pipes and water containers on roofs have been damaged by the bombardments."

Beyond water shortages, Gazans are now paying more to get what scarce water there is.

The Associated Press reports, "Electricity and water have become luxury items [in Gaza]. ...Gaza gets its electricity from Israeli and Egyptian lines — for payment — and from a power plant in Gaza. The Israeli lines have been damaged in the fighting, leaving only supplies from Egypt and the power plant, says the local electricity distribution company's official, Jamal al-Dardasawi. ...Without power to run pumps, there is no water, especially in Gaza's high-rise buildings. Rawan Taha, a 39-year-old housewife, lives in such an apartment tower. She says she last showered three days ago. When the water is on, she fills her bathtub, pots and empty bottles. Gaza's tap water is not drinkable, and her family pays 20 shekels ($6) each day for drinking water."

Al Jazeera adds, "In Khan Younis, a burned-out crater leaves a gaping hole on the main road, the aftermath of an Israeli F16 missile strike. The residents of nearby Khuzaa, which was under heavy Israeli bombardment, are sleeping on the streets. Access to water is extremely difficult; a man who generally sells water tanks for $4 is now asking for $29."

And there is another water crisis just around the corner.

The Haaretz article highlights, "Gaza’s water supply was in crisis even before the current conflict. According to the United Nations, the section of coastal aquifer that serves Gaza will be unusable in 2016 because of the overpumping of groundwater. Only 15 to 25 percent of the families there have daily access to running water; between 75 and 90 percent are dependent on the provision of purified water. Ninety million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage flow from Gaza into the Mediterranean daily because of Israel’s restrictions on construction materials entering the Strip. As a result, sewage-treatment projects have been frozen."

In her book Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow wrote, "More than four decades of Israeli occupation have made it impossible to develop or maintain infrastructure for water. With no replacement parts available, broken pipes allow raw sewage to leak into groundwater. Salt and toxic nitrates from the Mediterranean also contaminate the water supply, already over-pumped for Israeli settlements in Gaza. ...The crisis is not just an ongoing violation of the human right to water of Palestinians living in Gaza, it also threatens the water supplies of the region, as the aquifer supplies water to Israel and Egypt as well."

Brent Patterson is the Political Director at the Council of Canadians. He works with the Council's chairperson Maude Barlow, its campaigners, organizers and chapters across the country on trade, energy, water, and health care issues. The Council has political staff in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax, Delhi, Durban and Mexico City.