Demographic, Environmental,
Security Issues Project

Gaza Water Crisis Worsening
by Asya Abdul Hadi

from the PALESTINE REPORT, MAY 16 1997, VOL 2 NO 49

Gaza City -- More and more Gazans are spending part of their limited grocery budget on imported bottled water, seeking to avoid health problems caused by the polluted tap water in the Strip. Public health specialists are warning of a fresh water deficit in the Gaza Strip by the year 2000 if water resources continue to be managed as they are now.

Muhammed Abu Aassi, a grocer from Gaza City, said sales of bottled water have increased 20 percent over the past two years. Aassi sells 48 bottles of water a day, to people like Abdul-Nasser Rafati, 37, of Gaza, who suffers from kidney disease. He spends US$4 a day for 3-4 bottles of water.

"Our tap water is polluted with gravel and sand," said Rafati who runs an electrical tools shop. "I cannot afford $2000 for a surgical procedure to dissolve kidney stones so I buy water."

Environmentalists are concerned about the effects of the growing freshwater deficit and the declining water quality on public health in the Gaza Strip. Dr. Yousif Abu-Safiy'eh, a Palestinian legislat or and head of the LC committee on natural resources and energy, said the water pollution is caused by the high salinity of the groundwater, high nitrate concentrations and other environmental factors.

"Insufficient sanitation conditions and the absence of sewage conveyance systems pose serious threats to public health and are the major cause of environmental degradation," said Abu Safiy'eh. He explained that the nitrate concentrations in water causes methaemoglobinaemia, known as "blue baby" syndrome, and gastric cancer. It also reduces vitamin C intake among infants. In 1993, an UNRWA study also found that the nitrate concentrations also cause miscarriages.

In fact, the average concentration of nitrates in the tap water in the Gaza Governorate breaches the World Health Organization (WHO) standards, which is 10 mg/1 L, the Palestinian Water Authority found last year. The WHO also indicated that kidney diseases are linked to the increase of fluorides in water.

Groundwater, which depends on rainfall, is the major water resource in the Gaza Strip. The average annual rainfall varies from 200 mm to 400 mm, said Abu-Safiy'eh. But he added that the quantity of f resh water available to Gazans has been dramatically reduced due to two factors: first, population growth, and second, because the sand which used to constitute the catchment area for the rainfall which replenished the aquifer has been paved over in much of the Strip.

The quantity of the rainfall recharge has been reduced to 40 million cubic meters today from 90 million in the 1970s and is decreasing continuously, largely due to Israeli wells dug all around the Ga za Strip, Abu-Safiy'eh explained. "These wells have blocked about 30 million mm from the Gaza Strip since the 1980s," he said.

According to the Palestinian Water Authority, the current fresh water deficit in Gaza City is expected to increase dramatically by the year 2000. Extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture is causing contamination of groundwater with chemicals such as nitrates and sulfates, Abu Safiy'eh said.

The PWA says the groundwater used by Gazans is supplied from more than 3,700 wells. Of these, only 1,732 are registered. Only two areas of good fresh water comply with WHO standards (of nitrates less than 50 p.p.m. and chloride less than 250 p.p.m.), according to a report by the Water Division of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1995. The PWA has signed a contract with the French and Palestinian company of Lyonnaise Des Eaux/Khatib & Alami to improve the water quality and quantity in the Gaza Strip through water recycling and other technical assistance.

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