22:13 GMT01 March 2021
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    Aside from the water in the Strip being scarce and salty, it's also extremely polluted, with only three percent suitable for drinking. The reasons behind this contamination are the enclave's rapidly growing population, lack of resources, and Israeli blockade preventing crucial materials from entering the region.

    While the outbreak of COVID-19 damaged many aspects of life in the Gaza Strip, such as expanding unemployment and pushing the poverty rate to an unprecedented 64 percent, some things there have remained unalterably bad, like water quality.

    A year ago a report by B'Tselem, an Israeli NGO that monitors the government's activities in the West Bank and Gaza, stated that water sources in the Strip are scarce and that 40 percent of domestic water supply is "lost on the way to consumers" due to the region's outdated infrastructure.

    Unfit for Use 

    Water scarcity and rusty pipes, however, are far from being Gaza's only problems and Ahmed Hellis, an environmentalist and head of the National Institute for Environment and Development in the Strip, says the enclave's main challenge is contamination. 

    According to his organisation's estimates, about 97 percent of all water in the enclave is unfit for drinking, partially due its salinity, and mostly because it is simply polluted.

    Palestinians ride horse carts as they evacuate their animals in the village of Al-Moghraga after it was flooded by rain water, near central Gaza Strip February 22, 2015
    © REUTERS / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    Palestinians ride horse carts as they evacuate their animals in the village of Al-Moghraga after it was flooded by rain water, near central Gaza Strip February 22, 2015

    That pollution stems from several factors, one of them being the rapidly growing population of the Strip. The latter is considered one of the most densely populated areas in the world. 

    Estimates suggest that in 2016 the enclave housed two million people. On average, each was using 88 litres of water per day (a meagre number when compared to Israel, where the average is 200 litres daily). Now forecasts predict that by 2050 it will reach 4.8 million and that will inevitably influence Gazans' water consumption. 

    "The population is growing and so is the demand for this limited resource. Add to this the fact that farmers pollute it with pesticides, and you will understand where this contamination is coming from", complained Hellis.

    Is Israel to Blame?

    But the Strip's residents are not the only ones to blame and Hellis accuses Israel of bringing the situation to a head.

    "Israel is polluting Gaza with wastewater but what's more important it prevents environmental experts from entering the Strip to inspect the system and suggest ways of improving it".

    Although allegations that Israel is intentionally polluting the waters of Gaza have never been proven, the Jewish state did acknowledge that it prevented certain materials from entering the Strip, fearing that Hamas, a group deemed a terrorist organisation by officials in Jerusalem, would use those resources for military purposes instead of boosting the enclave's water infrastructure.

    At the same time, realising that the issue of water contamination might eventually backfire, in 2019 the Jewish state started constructing a pipeline to Gaza aimed at providing the Strip with the much-needed resource. 

    While that pipe is still under construction, Hellis is warning that the situation in Gaza is rapidly spinning out of control.

    Palestinian children look through a hole in a sheet metal fence outside their home in a poor neighbourhood in Gaza City
    © AFP 2021 / Mahmud Hams
    Palestinian children look through a hole in a sheet metal fence outside their home in a poor neighbourhood in Gaza City
    "We have already witnessed the direct impact of our polluted water that resulted in the spread of various diseases, including cancer".

    In 2009, for example, a UNICEF report suggested that 12 percent of deaths in children and infants in the Strip were caused by diarrhoea. Two years later, 26 percent of all childhood diseases were identified as waterborne and in 2016, a quarter of all illnesses in Gaza were attributed to the poor quality of the area's water.

    Hellis says that Hamas, in charge of the Strip since 2007, has been struggling to cope with the situation. One of the reasons for this is the lack of human resources dedicated to the mission. Another is the absence of free cash to get existing projects off the ground. 

    The inability of Hamas to tackle the crisis has since prompted various NGOs to look for solutions. Not long ago, it was reported that an Israeli firm, Watergen, had donated several solar-powered generators to Gaza to extract up to 6,000 litres of water per day, depending on the humidity of the air.

    Yet, for Hellis and the organisation he represents this is only a temporary bandage.

    "We have many NGOs that provide Gaza with solutions but the situation won't improve because of our permanent challenge - Israel. To eliminate that challenge we need the international community to put pressure on Israel to end their occupation".
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    Palestinians, palestinians, Palestinians, Gaza Strip, Gaza, coronavirus, COVID-19
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