News Release

Gaza’s Escalating Water Crisis

SANDY TOLAN, sandytolan at gmail.com, @Sandy_Tolan
Recently back from Gaza, Tolan just wrote the piece “Gaza’s Dying of Thirst, and Its Water Crisis Will Become a Threat to Israel” for The Daily Beast.

Tolan writes: “Mohammed Nimnim carries the water for his family. On a scorching late morning last summer, the 15-year-old pushed an old wheelchair piled high with empty plastic jugs through Gaza’s Shati (Beach) refugee camp. He rattled past modest groceries, makeshift tire shops, and graffiti praising Gaza’s martyrs, down broken concrete lanes, and toward the local mosque, where sputtering taps provide the family’s only source of drinking water.

“No luck. …

“Studies point to sharp rises in water-borne ailments, as doctors here forecast an outbreak of epidemic disease due to deteriorating water quality. Already, 97 percent of the water from Gaza’s wells is unfit for human consumption — the result of seawater leaking into the aquifer from severe over-pumping. And because there’s insufficient electricity to run Gaza’s sewage plant, 110 million liters of untreated sewage flows into the Mediterranean every day. …

“Another huge factor was the ‘Nakba,’ or Palestinian catastrophe, in 1948, when Gaza’s population quadrupled in just a few weeks, putting immense new pressure on the aquifer. And then there is Israel’s bombing of wells, water towers and pipelines, and sewage plants in Gaza, which caused an estimated $34m of damage.  …

“Israeli officials refute those charges in repeated statements, laying the blame squarely on Hamas. …

“Yet all of these factors, according to doctors and human rights groups, are minor compared to Israel’s ongoing economic blockade of Gaza, which has restricted the movement of basic goods, including medical supplies. ‘Occupation and siege are the primary impediments to the successful promotion of public health in the Gaza Strip,’ declared a 2018 study in The Lancet, which cited ‘significant and deleterious effects to health care.’ …

“It may seem that Gaza’s torments are sealed off from the outside world by layers of fences, locked gates, patrolling Israeli drones and war planes, and international disdain and indifference. But sewage travels across borders.”

Tolan is author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East and Children of the Stones. He is also a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His website is SandyTolan.com.