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Multi-stakeholder partnership needed to address water and energy crisis in Gaza

Gaza, 6 May 2014 - In partnership with the Palestinian Water Authority and the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, UNICEF convened a one-day event consisting of a field tour and roundtable discussion on the critical, interrelated issues of water, sanitation, and energy in Gaza on 30 April, as part of the marking of World Water Day 2014.

Water quality presents a crisis in Gaza as the coastal aquifer is expected to become unusable as early as 2016, with the damage irreversible by 2020. Moreover, Gaza is supplied with only 208 Megawatts of electricity, currently dependent on fuel from humanitarian donors, meeting less than half of the estimated demand (452 MW), and expected to run out in June. With the upcoming hot summer months, further reductions in electricity to only 6 hours per day is likely in Gaza.

The critical shortage of electricity and fuel needed to operate water pumps and wells results in insufficient supplies of safe drinking water, and an inability to keep the sewage systems running. The situation further undermines the already vulnerable living conditions of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents almost half of whom are children, and reduces their ability to respond to crises such as flooding of storm water and sewage.

The roundtable was presided over by James Rawley, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. Diplomats, Palestinian and international NGOs and UN agencies contributed ideas to the theme of this year’s World Water Day: ’water and energy’.

“The Gaza Strip needs sustainable access to clean water, including through desalination and improved waste water treatment to end the discharge of up to 90 million liters of raw and partially treated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea every day. Neither of these results will be achieved without sustainable access to energy,” said James Rawley.

The discussion identified the need for a dual approach towards small-scale solutions such as rain water harvesting and use of non-conventional energy, as well as large-scale projects such as installation of additional power lines supplying electricity from Israel or Egypt and seawater desalination.

“Further political and financial support is needed to translate the wealth of ideas into reality,” Rebhy al-Sheikh, Deputy Chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority said, stressing the urgent need to ease entry of the construction materials and spare parts needed for water, sanitation and electricity projects in Gaza, as well as the movement of people for technical personnel to upgrade their skills and experts to work freely in Gaza. “Indicators show that the water and energy situation is degrading even faster than what we thought,” he added. “The time to act is now, before it is too late,” urged Monther Shoblak, Director General of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility. “These solutions can take years before they become operational; in the meantime, people are suffering.”

June Kunugi, UNICEF Special Representative in the State of Palestine, stressed that joint efforts among relevant authorities, the international community, technical experts, and civil society are essential to address the unsustainable situation in Gaza. “There are clearly urgent, humanitarian needs in Gaza, but at the same time we have evidence of what is possible through partnership. Many of the solutions already established through partnership are providing safe water and sanitation services to children and their families in Gaza, both addressing immediate needs and contributing to long-term, sustainable development,” she said.

An outcome document of the discussions will be developed to inform the way forward.

 

 
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