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 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.



October 28 • 6:15 AM

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.


October 28 • 6:00 AM

Why Women Are Such a Minority in Elected Office

The obvious answers aren’t necessarily the most accurate. Here, five studies help clear up the gender disparity in politics.


October 28 • 4:00 AM

The Study of Science Leads to Leftward Leanings

Researchers report the scientific ethos tends to produce a mindset that favors liberal political positions.


October 28 • 2:00 AM

Who Funded That? The Names and Numbers Behind the Research in Our Latest Issue

This list includes studies cited in our pages that received funding from a source other than the researchers’ home institutions. Only principal or corresponding authors are listed.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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