EU and UNICEF begin €10m desalination plant in Gaza

The European Union and UNICEF has launched the construction of a major seawater desalination plant which will provide 75,000 Palestinians with safe drinking water in Gaza.

The project, to be implemented by UNICEF thanks to a €10m grant from the European Union, will provide 6,000m3 of desalinated seawater per day, to serve residents in Khan Yunis and Rafah in southern Gaza, and is being installed on land adjacent to the sea near Deir al-Balah.

EU representative, John Gatt-Rutter, laid the first stone in the presence of representatives of the Palestinian Water Authority, Gaza’s Coastal Municipal Water Utilities, the local municipalities and UNICEF.

Mr Gatt-Rutter said: "The situation in the Gaza Strip, including the recent dangerous escalation and the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, underlines once more the urgent need to bring a durable solution to the conflict".

Desalination is one of the strategic options chosen by the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA). A comparative study conducted in 2011 concluded that it was an essential, pragmatic solution to provide a consistent supply of safe, drinking water to the expanding population in Gaza. The desalination of seawater from the Mediterranean will also help alleviate the over-extraction of groundwater, and preserve Gaza’s sole aquifer from total collapse. A 2012 United Nations' report warned that over-extraction of groundwater could render the coastal aquifer unusable by 2016.

“Thanks to generous support from the European Union, there will be greater access to safe drinking water in Gaza,” said June Kunugi, UNICEF Special Representative.

“This medium to long term intervention will remove the daily struggle of 75,000 people to have sufficient access to water to meet their basic needs.”

The plant is expected to become operational in 2015.

Only 5-10% of the water extracted from the Coastal Aquifer has been found to be suitable for human consumption. Seawater, sewage and agricultural fertilizer intrusion have contaminated the water with high levels of chloride and nitrates, in some areas as high as six times the World Health Organization (WHO) limit.    

As a result, more than four out of five Palestinians in Gaza buy their drinking water from unregulated, private vendors, a heavy burden on impoverished families and the 1,6 million Gazans living in one of the highest population-density areas  in the world . Some are paying as much as a third of their household income on water whose quality they cannot trust, as an estimated four-fifths of the water sold by private vendors is contaminated.

Mr Gatt-Rutter added: "Access to clean water is a fundamental human right for all. And yet many Gazans face acute water shortages on a day to day basis. Others can only access water of very poor quality. The launch of construction work on this desalination plant, offers the prospect of access to clean water for many thousands of families in Khan Younis and Rafah."

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