Displaced Palestinians facing acute water shortage as Israel's offensive intensifies

Displaced Palestinians facing acute water shortage as Israel's offensive intensifies
Months of Israeli attacks have destroyed much of Gaza's water system and Palestinians have said it is is becoming even harder to find clean water
4 min read
18 May, 2024
Palestinians in Gaza are forced to spend hours each day queueing for water as Israel's war has crippled basic services [GETTY]

Israel's eight-month invasion of Gaza has caused major disruption to the water systems and supplies for the besieged enclave's 2.3 million residents.

The recent incursion into the southern Rafah governorate caused over half a million people to flee under the orders of the Israeli military, who have since bombed dozens of areas and seized control of the key border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, blocking the entry of vital supplies such as water and fuel.

At the start of the war on 7 October, Israel switched off water into the Strip, alongside electricity and other supplies. It was not until days later that the Israeli government reopened the border points to allow aid to enter.

Heavy aerial and ground bombardment has destroyed Gaza's water treatment plants and sewage system. A BBC satellite analysis from earlier this month found that more than half of Gaza's water facilities have been damaged or destroyed during the war.

Throughout the war, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have faced acute water shortages and have become dependent on the delivery of water tanks or buying bottles at a high cost.

Now, with thousands of families arriving at the Al-Mawasi coast and Khan Younis from Rafah over the past ten days, many more are struggling to find clean water and resorting to desperate alternatives, such as sea water.

This week, the UN children's agency UNICEF warned that the recent offensives in Rafah and renewed fighting in northern Gaza have exacerbated concerns about water access.

"In the north, vital wells have suffered great damage, while in Rafah at least eight facilities are down, impacting around 300,000 people, many of them children who will likely revert to contaminated water and become seriously ill. When water fails, children suffer the most," Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said. 

The three pipelines from Israel into Gaza have been only partially functioning throughout the war while 83 percent to groundwater wells and not operating, according to OCHA's daily update.

Local authorities have said it is near impossible to conduct repairs to damaged sanitation facilities amid the ongoing hostilities.

On Thursday, Khan Younis municipality said that water and sanitation had collapsed in the area and estimated that water facilities had sustained $40 million worth of damage.

Displaced Palestinian Subhi Abu Al-Rub told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister outlet Al-Araby al-Jadeed that finding water has been a problem since "the first day of displacement".

"Each time we moved, we found it more difficult to get water, knowing where to find it and then transporting it to a tent."

He said that he was first displaced to a camp in Gaza City, then to Al-Zawaida camp in central Gaza and then eventually to a shelter in a school in Rafah following the advancement of Israel’s offensive.

"Now we are living in a real disaster after we left the school and went to a tent in Al-Mawasi, where we haven’t found any source of water," he added.

Officials from Khan Younis municipality said that 45 out of 60 wells had been destroyed, nine out of ten water tanks, and some 350 kilometres of water pipes, putting water and drainage out of service.

For months, families have been forced to spend hours queuing up with plastic bottles and gallons at water tanks, and then make efforts to ration supplies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the water crisis is causing a proliferation of bacterial diseases among the population. Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and hepatitis A, according to the WHO.

Nearly half a million people are suffering from diarrhoea, the health body said.

Additionally, the lack of fuel is worsening the issue as desalination plants are powered by fuel supplies that have been blocked from entering Gaza since Israel shut two of the main border crossings earlier this month.

The Director General of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, Munther Shublak, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the generator that was powering the sector has shut down due to the fuel crisis.

He said that the electricity meant Gaza's water and sanitation facilities became dependent on generators for power after the main grid collapsed at the start of the war.

"About 190 out of 540 water and sanitation facilities are partially operating in Gaza," he said. "This produces between 15 and 20 percent of the daily water needs of the Strip."