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Precious Resources: The Water Crisis and Environmental Degradation in Gaza

By: Kate Moran

Not quite Israel and not quite a sovereign entity, the Gaza Strip is the most densely populated area in the world.[1] Home to more than 1.7 million inhabitants and comprising a total area of only 360 square kilometers[2], the Gaza Strip is arguably the most volatile region on earth. In 2006, the Lebanon-based organization Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) won the Palestinian legislative elections, effectively taking control of the area. The Palestinian Authority (PA), led by President Mahmoud Abbas, continues to act as the official governing body of the West Bank, but communication between the two organizations is tenuous at best. Today, Hamas functions as the de facto ruler for the area. Unfortunately, the ongoing conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians more often than not overshadows severe environmental issues in the region.

Primary among the environmental concerns is the ever-worsening water crisis. The roots of Gaza’s water problem lie in the over-population of the area, due to a high influx of refugees in 1948, following Israel’s War of Independence. Water for the 1.7 million inhabitant – half of them children and two-thirds refugees is sourced by the shallow coastal aquifer shared between Gaza, Israel and Egypt, only part of which is replenished annually by rainfall[3]. Decades of over-pumping, as well as heavy pollution from salts and wastewater, have severely degraded the quality of the water supplied by the aquifer. Moreover, the little water that is available is heavily polluted by nitrates from uncontrolled sewage and fertilizers from farmlands. As a result, more than 90% of the water is unfit for human consumption.[4] Thus, drinking water for the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip is either from the very risky public supply or must be imported—legally, bottled from Turkey—or smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt.[5]

Clearly, Gaza’s water supply system is in deep crisis. The aquifer is being depleted by more than two meters each year.[6] It is estimated that the aquifer will be unusable in three years and, unless all abstraction is stopped and given 10 years to recover, it will never be a viable source of water again.[7]

There’s no question that the water shortage in Gaza is evidence of a larger humanitarian crisis. Should Israel negotiate with an officially recognized terrorist organization (Hamas) that doesn't acknowledge the State's right to exist? Moreover, would such negotiations be effective or would they only serve to further exacerbate the conflict? Issues such as these, and in particular, ones involving Arab Israelis and inhabitants of the Palestinian territories, reflect a moral dilemma in Israeli society. The desperate need for assistance is undeniable, yet the State’s history of facilitating a solution has been all but nonexistent.

The question remaining then, is this: if Israel can’t or won’t remedy the water crisis in Gaza, do other Arab nations in the region have an obligation to the Palestinians? If so, why has this not occurred? Are Palestinians suffering at the hands of an unjust government, or are there other factors at play? The answer of course, and the reality on the ground is much more nuanced. An early day motion  (EDM) has been tabled in the British Parliament, to bring the issue of the water crisis in the Gaza Strip to the attention of the British government.[8] It is hoped that such a motion will lead to an intervention in the region, and with it, relief for the Palestinian people.

Water, giver and sustainer of life, is the world’s scarcest renewable resource. The world's supply of clean, fresh water is steadily decreasing, and not just in the Gaza Strip. Water crises are a daily struggle for nations across the globe. As responsible citizens, and in regard for those who go without, it is absolutely essential that we limit our water intake. It’s not just about shorter showers or turning off the faucet when brushing our teeth. It’s about a greater awareness of the preciousness of our natural resources, and a responsibility to those for whom water quite literally means the difference between life and death.


[1] "World Factbook: Gaza Strip." CIA-The World Factbook. 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

[2] "The Water Crisis in Gaza." Solidarity, Jan. 2007. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

[3] Vidal, John. "Water Crisis Will Make Gaza Strip 'Unliveable.'" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] "Shoots of Hope Amid Gaza's Suffering." Morning Star Online, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] "Early Day Motion 1062." - WATER SUPPLY IN GAZA. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. << http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/1062>>

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