Gaza’s first desalinization plant was feted with a ceremonial opening on Tuesday featuring a delegation from the European Union, which is funding the project.
Construction work on the plant, in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, began in March 2014 thanks to a 10 million euro ($13.7 million) EU grant. The construction has now reached its first stage, and the plant should already be able to supply 6,000 cubic meters of desalinated water daily, the Palestinian news site Al Quds reported.
The station still needs to undergo intensive testing this summer to check the efficacy of the pumps, filters and reverse osmosis membranes, which are responsible for purifying the water. During this stage, the quality of the desalinated water will be checked to make sure it meets standards before it is distributed to the public.
European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, who attended the opening, said that another 10 million euros were granted to take the plant into its second phase of construction, which is expected to begin in mid-June and last 36 months. At the end of that phase, the plant should be able to produce 12,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day.
The plan to build the facility was implemented by UNICEF, and construction was carried out by the Palestinian Water Authority and the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, the company responsible for water and sanitation services in the Gaza Strip.
“Natural water and resources have been greatly damaged after continuous years of conflict in Gaza, and as a result, 95% of the water in Gaza is unfit for human use. Therefore, we are supporting this water purification plant to provide pure and clean water to more than 150,000 Palestinians,” said Hahn.
The original conception of the plant, when it was announced a little over two years ago, was that it would supply fresh water to the 75,000 residents of Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south of Gaza.
June Kunugi, UNICEF special representative to Palestine, said at the ceremony, “The end of the first phase of this ambitious project is a symbol of hope and positive change in Gaza, which will increase access to safe water, which is essential for life and well-being.”
“More than four out of five Palestinians in Gaza buy their drinking water from unregulated, private vendors, a heavy burden on impoverished families,” a EU-UNICEF statement said in 2014.
The desalination of seawater from the Mediterranean is essential to curb over-extraction of groundwater from the Coastal Aquifer, and to prevent an environmental disaster with the total collapse of this aquifer, a 2015 UNICEF statement argued, adding that a 2012 United Nations’ report warned that over-extraction could render Gaza’s sole aquifer unusable by 2016.