Monday, September 21, 2009

Gaza's Water: Everyone's Problem

To summarize a summary, a recent UN report has found that the availability and quality of drinking water in the Gaza strip is hovering somewhere around dismal and is so bad, that high concentrations of nitrates in some of the water is leading to non-fatal medical conditions that turn babies blue.

The report finds that many of the problems existing in the Gaza strip have existed for many years. The cause of this tends to be overuse of the underground water aquifers (here known as the coastal aquifer) which is being polluted by a number of sources, including improper waste disposal and insufficient sewage treatment. The report points out that some sewage facilities were damaged in Operation Cast Lead and that this has exacerbated the pre-existing problem as well.

The report makes a number of recommendations related to the water situation. Some of these are: Remove water from the ongoing conflict in the region; Provide safe water to infants; Rest the coastal aquifer; Develop alternative water supply to the Gaza Strip; Improve efficiency of the water supply network; Eliminate all inflow of salty and nitrate-containing recharge into the groundwater; Establish new sewage treatment plant(s); Improve the sewage system; Decontaminate sewage ponds and Wadi Gaza; Rebuild environmental governance.

Much of what is being recommended here is the responsibility of Gazans--to improve governance for example, to ensure the proper resources are dedicated to sewage treatment and to be judicious in their water use. Finding other sources of water falls into this category as well, but the report makes an interesting point: the coastal Aquifer is shared with Israel and Egypt and so these two countries will need to assist with its maintenance.

This point is so important because it's a demonstration that water--being a universally required resource--provides the opportunity for cooperation and the building of peaceful, collaborative ties rather than conflict. This aquifer, used by so many people and in so many countries needs to be protected by all so that it can be used by all. Damage to the aquifer by Gaza will harm the ability of Israelis and Egyptians to benefit from it as well. In this respect, it is in the interests of these two countries to ensure that overuse and bad governance in Gaza does not imperil their own access to water and one such way would be to assist in helping to provide new sources of water.

For example, Israel is a world leader in water desalination boasting one of the worlds largest and most efficient such facilities in the world. Similarly, other Arab states like Saudi Arabia are at the vanguard of desalinization as well, with Saudi Arabia able to claim title to the worlds largest desalination facility. Imagine the potential for a confluence of Israeli or Saudi Technology, with the ability of Saudi, Egypt, the US, EU or other donors to construct such a facility in Gaza. There would be universal benefit. Benefit to Egypt and Israel in helping to preserve the coastal Aquifer, benefit to the companies providing the technology in question, benefit to the people of Gaza for having cleaner, more accessible water, benefit to the donors, not only for the prestige, but for helping to improve stability ion the region, stability that would result from the cooperation of all the players that would be required to make the project happen.

In the meantime, however, though the report does not touch on this in any more than a superficial manner, it seems that even with outside support, not much will change in Gaza without a change to the circumstances which make true statements such as "Environmental governance in the Gaza Strip has been weakened by internal political developments, as well as by the recent escalation of hostilities."

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