Israel has called on the international community to take urgent action over a worsening water crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit contacted international aid organizations for help in alleviating the crisis and asked that they advance projects to improve the situation, Army Radio reported on Sunday.
In a letter sent last week to representatives of the international community in Israel and to the Foreign Ministry, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, warned that the Strip’s aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and an estimated 96 percent of water in the enclave is now unfit to drink. It is the second such warning Mordechai has issued in the past six months.
To improve the situation, Israel supports the establishment of desalination plants, he said. In January a UNICEF team finished construction of a desalination plant in Khan Younis with a production capacity of 6,000 cubic meters of water per day — enough for 75,000 people.
However, according to Mordechai, the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, won’t allow the plant to be connected to the electric grid.
A second desalination plant is in its planning stages and Israel supports the construction of a third, larger plant in Deir al-Balah, but only part of the money has been raised by the international community.
Until those plants are completed, Israel has offered to double its supply of water to Gaza, from 10 million cubic meters per year to 20 million. However, Mordechai told Army Radio that the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is not rushing to implement the offer.
The water shortage is compounded by the ongoing electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. The energy shortfall is an estimated 200 megawatts a day. Israel currently provides 60% of the electricity for Gaza, a power plant in the Strip provides some 30% and Egypt provides the remaining 10%.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the PA, in a bloody battle in 2007. The violent takeover triggered a border blockade by Israel and Egypt that, among other things, sharply aggravated power shortages.
Israel has approved the construction of another high-voltage power line to Gaza, which could provide an additional 100 megawatts of energy. This will take a few years to complete and is intended to provide power to the desalination plants.
Additionally, in September 2015, Israel approved construction of a natural gas pipeline to the Strip which could provide cheap, efficient energy to the Palestinian population. However, the PA has yet to sign a deal with any gas supplier.
On Saturday the United Nations envoy for the Middle East called for Palestinian political unity and expressed the hope that Hamas would cede its power to the PA.
In a statement, Nickolay Mladenov said he was moved to “deep concern by the growing tensions” in the Palestinian territory, and called on the Hamas leadership to allow its West Bank-based rival government, the Palestinian Authority, to “assume its responsibility in Gaza.”
“I am deeply concerned by the growing tensions in Gaza,” he said. “While the Palestinian Government needs to ensure its fiscal sustainability under increasingly difficult economic conditions, it is important that reforms or decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live.”
Mladenov said Gaza is “an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no efforts should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division.”
“I urge the responsible parties to work together to find a solution to the current crisis and call on all factions to allow the Palestinian Government to assume its responsibility in Gaza,” the UN envoy said.
“Leaders have a responsibility to avoid escalation and bridge the growing divide between Gaza and the West Bank that further fragments the Palestinian people,” his statement added.
Mladenov was among the international representatives that Mordechai contacted.