In the Gaza Strip, the unsustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) situation exacerbated by the longstanding blockade has been compounded by the 2014 conflict. Problems arising from the prohibition on entry of ‘dual-use’ materials, inadequate power supplies and lack of government regulation have seriously affected the WASH situation in Gaza. The majority of Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank are not connected to the water network or are irregularly supplied by it, forcing people to rely on expensive tankered water. Inadequate water for drinking, domestic consumption and for livestock, is affecting the overall resilience of these communities. The destruction of essential WASH infrastructure lacking building permits generates a coercive environment, and can lead to displacement, poverty and increased risk of disease and illness.
The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, expressed concern about the deteriorating energy situation in the Gaza Strip and called for swift action from Israeli and Palestinian authorities and members of the international community to protect the provision of critical basic services to Gaza’s 1.9 million residents.
On 17 April, Gaza’s sole power plant (GPP) was forced to shut down completely after exhausting its fuel reserves and being unable to replenish them due to a shortage of funds. Prior to this, the GPP was operating at only approximately half of its capacity, producing nearly 30 per cent of the electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip. On 20 April, electricity supply from Egypt, which accounts for 15 per cent of Gaza’s supply, also came to a halt due to technical malfunctioning that is yet to be repaired. Gaza is currently supplied only with electricity purchased from Israel (some 55 per cent of the previous supply), resulting in electricity blackouts of 20 hours per day, up from 12 hours previously, further undermining the delivery of basic services.
In the Gaza Strip more than 95 per cent of the water extracted from the aquifer lying underneath it is unfit for human consumption. This stems mainly from long-standing over-extraction, compounded by infiltration of raw sewage and seawater. Chloride and nitrate levels in the water extracted in most areas exceed the levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for potable water by up to eight times. As Gaza’s population continues to grow, a 2012 UN report predicted that water demand in Gaza would increase by 60 per cent by 2020, while damage to the aquifer may become irreversible.
The natural water spring of ‘Ein Fera’a, one the largest in western Hebron governorate, is the sole source of water for a herding community carrying the same name that moved close to the spring some 30 years ago. The residents comprise about 11 households with about 80 people in total, all registered refugees. They rely on the spring for domestic water consumption and for watering their livestock, which is their prime source of livelihood. The landowner of the spring, a resident of the nearby town of Dura, also uses the water for irrigating the adjacent land, where he grows seasonal vegetables and crops. On hot summer days and when there are water shortages, he also pumps water from the underground pool to sell to families in Dura.
The ten-year-long political dispute between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, along with the Israeli-imposed blockade and repeated outbreaks of hostilities, continue to severely disrupt the provision of basic services in Gaza, including those provided by Gaza’s 25 municipalities. These municipalities face profound challenges in meeting their responsibilities to a population approaching two million, crammed into one of the most densely populated and confined areas in the world.
At this month’s meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), a high-level, biannual donor meeting, the Israeli authorities announced their intention to establish a new electricity line into the Gaza Strip. The line could supply an extra 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity, almost doubling the current supply from Israel. The announcement did not include an implementation time frame. In the meantime, the provision of basic services across the Gaza Strip remains severely hampered by the longstanding electricity deficit.