Israel has cut off water supplies to the Gaza Strip as of March 14. Of its population of over 1.8 million, the Gaza Strip is home to 200,000 Palestinians who rely on the Israeli water wells to their east. These wells are managed by Israel’s national water company Mekorot. On March 14, Mekorot notified the Director of Gaza’s Water Authority Maher Salem that the water flow would be interrupted for several hours for maintenance purposes. More than a week later, Salem reported that all water was still cut off.
Palestinians are prohibited from digging water wells deeper than 100 meters. Israeli wells reach far below those of the Palestinians, extracting all available water and leaving Palestinian pumps dry. Palestinians therefore depend on Israel for water supplies. Particularly in recent years, Mekorot has used water as a means of leverage and manipulation over Palestinians.
Some areas in Israel have been experiencing drought for five years. Mekorot uses this to justify the Palestinian water shortages. Stressing the water scarcity across the nation, Mekorot reasons that it must prioritize filling local reservoirs in order to maintain the necessary pressure stream water outward. However, all of these local reservoirs are located in Israeli settlements, and water fails to make it to Palestinian areas.
However, Al Jazeera has reported that the perception of water scarcity is a myth that Israel has strategically perpetuated. Ramallah, a city in the West Bank, for example, sees more rainfall than London. Yet by exaggerating the drought, Israel has asserted hegemony over water and has proceeded to manipulate its allocation.
Furthermore, Israel frequently destroys Palestinian water infrastructure. Within the first six months of 2016, Israel destroyed over 50 water and sanitation structures that service Palestinians. Israel cited a lack of Palestinian permits in defense of its actions. Just last month, Israeli military vehicles destroyed water pipes that supplied the Palestinian-inhabited northern Jordan Valley area.
Without supplies from Israel, Palestinians could rely on aquifers, underground layers of rock that contain water, to collect and filter water. However, the disproportionate amount of people relative to water resources in the Gaza Strip has left the region’s aquifers over-strained and contaminated. Additionally, the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip thwarts hopes for resources and assistance.
Some Palestinians have been able to pay large tankers for water supplies, though this method is expensive and complicated by the blockade.
This situation has afflicted Palestinians for years. According to the World Bank, safe drinking water is only available for ten percent of Gaza’s population. In 2012, a United Nations study predicted that Gaza would become unlivable by 2020.
The European Union and the United Nations are working to assist the region. In 2017, the EU funded a €10 million ($12.3 million) desalination plant for Gaza that looks to eventually service 75,000 people. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees specializes in providing water and other services to this area. However, the U.S. funding cuts to UNRWA announced at the start of 2018 pose a major threat to the organization’s operations and the amelioration of the Palestinian water plight.