Water in Gaza: Scarce, polluted and mostly unfit for use

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Some two million Gazans suffer from a constant shortage of water, which gets worse in summer. The tap water is salty and polluted and is not fit for drinking. In the absence of other alternatives, residents are forced to use this water for bathing and washing, yet the supply is irregular and unpredictable. For drinking and cooking, they no choice to buy water privately – despite severe financial hardship – and even then it is usually substandard.

The shortage of water in the Gaza Strip and the substandard quality of tap water have been known for years. The coastal aquifer, which Gaza relies on as its only water source, has been polluted by over-pumping and wastewater contamination. As a result, 96.2% of household water from the aquifer is non-potable. Moreover, about 40% of the domestic water supply is lost on the way to consumers because of Gaza’s outdated infrastructure. Due to irregularities in supply, residents have to stock water in containers in their rooftops to use on days when the supply is cut off. The power supply in Gaza is also intermittent, and often does not come on at the same time as the water supply. This limits residents’ ability to operate pumps to fill up the containers. Families that do not get a chance to pump water to the roof before the power supply runs out find themselves with no running water.

The low quality and limited supply of water force Gazans to purchase desalinated water from private vendors, mostly for drinking and cooking but also for other purposes. Much of the purchased water is polluted, too.

The World Health Organization has set the minimum requirement for daily per capita water consumption at 100 liters. This amount should cover basic domestic needs such as drinking, bathing, cooking, and washing. In Gaza, average daily per capita consumption is only 88 liters; in Israel, by comparison, it is more than 200.

Much has been written about the water crisis in the Gaza Strip under the Israeli blockade, about Gaza’s collapsing infrastructure and about Israel’s responsibility for creating this situation. Here, we share the stories of five Gazans who live in this unbearable reality. They describe their constant pursuit of water, the effect of the salty water on their physical and mental health and on their belongings, and the financial burden of buying water they can barely afford.

The following testimonies were given to B’Tselem field researchers Khaled al-‘Azayzeh and Olfat al-Kurd.