Gaza’s aquifer and only natural freshwater source is “in danger of collapse,” the UN is warning.
Engineers have long been battling to keep the densely populated strip’s water and sewage system limping along.
But in September the UN Environment Programme warned that damage to the underground aquifer – due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, conflict, and years of overuse and underinvestment – could take centuries to reverse if it is not halted now. Monther Shoblak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipality Water Utility, sniffs the air at the Beit Lahia water treatment plant and smiles.
“I’m happy when I smell sewage,” he jokes, “it means the turbines are working.”
Propellers are agitating the frothy sludge in one of the lagoons, aerating it to help bacteria digest it.
He says the machinery sometimes falls silent during the power cuts that plague most of Gaza.
But the mirror-smooth pond next to it is a perpetual concern.
The plant is handling twice its capacity and is only able to partially treat the sewage.
Lagoons designed to allow treated clean water to infiltrate through Gaza’s sandy soil back down into the aquifer are instead funnelling sewage straight back into the groundwater
In addition, with several years of drought and the digging of hundreds of illegal, unregulated wells, the UN Environmental Programme says at least three times more water is extracted than is replenished each year.