Sanitation services and water infrastructure in Gaza are in a critical state. A 2009 World Bank report stated that Gaza has a well-designed master plan for water and sanitation services. The plan identifies the need to build three new treatment plants as well as significantly expand wastewater treatment capacity. However, the same report indicated that under current closure conditions and with a deteriorating political and security situation, less than 2% of the investment programme was being implemented. Moreover, smaller relief projects had been stopped because materials and international contractors had been unable to enter the Gaza Strip to implement projects there. Israel’s ongoing blockade also prevents the import of materials necessary to repair, upgrade and maintain existing treatment plants and the fuel necessary to operate them. As a result, untreated sewage is infiltrating into the groundwater. This has in turn led to a sharp rise in nitrate levels, with values reaching 150-200 mg/L in many parts of the Gaza Strip – far above the WHO guideline of 50 mg/L.[i]
Israel’s Operation Protective Edge (July-August 2014) further damaged Gaza’s already ailing water infrastructure. The UN estimated the cost of reparations at $34 million, with extensive damage to and destruction of wells, water and wastewater networks. Furthermore, the combination of the destruction of sewage plants, lack of clean water and severely overcrowded shelters housing displaced people has further raised fears of a public health crisis.[ii]
[i] UN, 2012. Gaza in 2020. A liveable place? A report by the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory, August, 2012. http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/file/publications/gaza/Gaza%20in%202020.pdf, accessed 16 April 2015.
[ii] UN-OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 2015. Humanitarian Bulletin Monthly Report, January 2015. Available at https://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_the_humanitarian_monitor_2014_10_27_english.pdf, accessed 10 March 2015.