Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Gaza’s Other War

• November 20, 2012 • 10:24 AM

Israel and Gaza have been torn apart by missile strikes this week, but Gaza’s rapidly depleting aquifer is about to make things even more precarious.

Of all the things the governments of Israel and Gaza have against each other, the fate of a water treatment plant would seem like the least of the problem. A little-noted UN report released in August argued the opposite: that the rockets flying between the two sides may be less destructive than long-standing wrangles over water.

Gaza in 2020 is sober reading even as government resource reports go. Being a desert, sources of water are few, straining an aquifer that feeds the tiny strip as well as parts of Israel and Egypt. According to the U.N. Environment Program, only ten percent of the aquifer’s water remains potable, and it will become entirely useless in as little as three years, beyond which point it will take centuries to replenish itself. From the UN study:

With no perennial  streams and low rainfall, Gaza relies almost  completely on the underlying coastal aquifer, which is partly replenished by rainfall and runoff from the Hebron hills to the east, with the recharge estimated at 50 to 60 million cubic metres (MCM) annually.

Current abstraction of water from the aquifer, at an estimated 160 MCM per year to meet current overall demand, is well beyond that.

As groundwater levels subsequently decline, sea water infiltrates from the nearby Mediterranean Sea. Salinity levels have thus risen well beyond guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) for safe drinking water. This pollution is compounded by contamination of the aquifer by nitrates from uncontrolled sewage, and fertilizers from irrigation of farmlands.

Today 90% of water from the aquifer is not safe for drinking without treatment. Availability of clean water is thus limited for most Gazans with average consumption of 70 to 90 litres per person per day (depending on the season), below the global WHO standard of 100 litres per person per day. The aquifer could become unusable as early as 2016, with the damage irreversible by 2020.

Various attempts to solve the problem have met with middling results. A passel of NGO and UN-led initiatives have sought to develop desalinization capacity and water treatment plants. Typically, the projects have run into import issues—parts for water treatment facilities are hard to get into Gaza without running afoul of security rules that ban import of many industrial materials.

If the U.N. estimate is accurate, that gives leaders in Gaza and Israel three years to hammer out the details of their coexistence before it becomes impossible for the strip, which is smaller than Los Angeles, to provide potable water to its 1.6 million people. Last summer, the British charity Oxfam claimed that Gaza residents were spending as much as a third of their monthly family income buying water on a fierce private market, and reports including this useful one from the Jerusalem Post noted that Gaza’s water authority had faced price increases from the territory’s chief provider of clean water—Israel.

Marc Herman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.


October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.


October 16 • 4:00 AM

Personality Traits Linked to Specific Diseases

New research finds neurotic people are more likely to suffer a serious health problem.


October 16 • 2:00 AM

Comparing Apples to the Big Apple: Yes, Washington, D.C., Is More Expensive Than New York City

Why shouldn’t distant locales tied to jobs in the urban core count in a housing expenditure study?


October 15 • 4:00 PM

Why Asian American Parents Are the Least Likely to Spank Their Kids

Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents.


Follow us


Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.