The 1.7 million Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are facing a growing water shortage.
Currently, 90 percent of Gaza’s main water supply is unfit for drinking, and unsuitable even for agricultural use. The besieged territory’s main water supply, the coastal aquifer, is over-pumped, and a crippling Egyptian-Israeli blockade on Gaza has exacerbated the problem.
While water treatment plants exist in Gaza, they are under-developed, and frequent fuel shortages force them to regularly halt operations. As a result, local authorities are now pumping 90 million cubic litres of partially-treated sewage into the Mediterranean sea off the Gaza coast on daily basis.
The untreated sewage has infiltrated Gaza's groundwater, contaminating the water supply, which now contains high chloride and nitrate levels. The Palestinian Ministry of Health has urged Palestinians in Gaza to boil water before they drink it or use it for cooking. An estimated 26 percent of diseases in Gaza are water related.
The water salinity has affected the types of food grown in Gaza, eliminating most citrus fruit, which are sensitive to saline, in favour of more salt-tolerant vegetables and flowers, like cabbage, spinach, green beans, cucumber and tomatoes.
The quantity of water accessible to Palestinians in Gaza is less than one-third the consumption levels of an Israeli citizen, and far below minimum standards recommended by the World Health Organization. A recent United Nations report showed that if the current situation persists, the coastal aquifer could become unusable as early as 2016, and the damage could become irreversible by 2020.