U.N. report says treatment investments must be stepped up.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - The aquifer that provides water to the Gaza Strip may become unusable within four years and irreversibly damaged by 2020 unless pumping stops and major infrastructure upgrades are made, the United Nations said.
"Today, 90 percent of the water from the aquifer isn't safe for drinking without treatment," the U.N. report said about the seaside enclave between Egypt and Israel, where 1.6 million people live amid a blockade restricting the movement of goods.
Available clean water is "limited for most Gazans," and if desalination and wastewater treatment investments aren't stepped up, Gaza's power, living and sanitation conditions will erode, the United Nations report said.
While Gaza water has shown high saline levels for decades, it's grown more contaminated the past five years due to overpumping of part of the coastal aquifer that runs beneath Gaza. Three times more water is extracted from the aquifer each year than it recharges, the Palestinian Water Authority said.
Sharing scarce water resources has been one of the knottiest issues between Israelis and Palestinians.
At the Shati refugee camp in Gaza, the water from Khalil Awad's kitchen sink is contaminated with encroaching seawater and traces of sewage that leak into the aquifer.
"There's no healthy water in all of Shati, and I can't afford to buy bottled water for all my children," Awad, 55, said last month, pointing to his rusty faucet. "Everyone knows drinking this water makes you sick."
Israel sells the Palestinian Authority 5 million cubic meters of water a year for Gaza, ruled by the Islamic group Hamas since 2007. Negotiations to double that have bogged down amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Efforts to build desalination plants that create potable water from the sea are slowed by Israeli and Egyptian blockades, imposed after Hamas ousted forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority.
One plant is proposed, and a smaller desalination plant in Gaza has been built. Blocking agreements are arguments over "price, quality and quantity," said Monther Shublaq, director of Gaza's water utility.