With nearly 95 per cent of the water resources in Gaza considered unfit for human consumption, the need for an immediate alternative source of water has never been more important. Muscat-based Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC) in recent months has spent considerable efforts assisting the urgent efforts to provide water for Gaza. “The provision of a clean, secure and dependable water supply to the population of Gaza is the single most important water project on earth right now,” Ciarán Ó Cuinn, director, MEDRC, stated.
A 2012 UN report warned that over-extraction of groundwater from the Gaza Strip’s sole aquifer could make it unusable by 2016, while the damage could become irreversible by 2020. In response, the European Union and the UN children’s agency, Unicef, have financed construction of a desalination plant in the south of the enclave in Deir el Balah, producing 6,000m3 of drinking water per day.
The plant is set to be operational soon and its capacity doubled in the next three years. “In cooperation with our colleagues in the Palestinian Water Authority and the Coastal Municipality Water Utility, (agencies responsible for construction of the desalination plant) MEDRC conducted an intensive technical support mission focused on the Deir al Balah Desalination Plant. This mission included training in troubleshooting and non-routine maintenance as well as plant inspections,” Cuinn added.
With the desalination plant, the Palestinian enclave is trying to avert a potential humanitarian crisis over a lack of drinkable water. Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, was quoted recently on his visit to the desalination plant as saying, “About 150,000 Palestinians living in Rafah and Khan Yunis will have access to fresh drinking water through the project.”
“Nearly 95 per cent of the water resources in Gaza are considered unfit for human consumption,” he said. With the coastal enclave under an Israeli blockade for over a decade, “Gazans have witnessed a rapid decline in living standards, including the lack of crucial access to fresh water and reliable sources of power,” he added.
Cuinn added that in May, the centre conducted a joint workshop for the agencies involved in both the Gaza Desalination and Red Sea Dead Sea projects. “Held in Ramallah, Palestine and Aqaba, Jordan, the participants focused on the challenges and techniques of high-level tendering facing government agencies involved in large-scale water projects. In addition, we were delighted to support Dr Husam al Najar and three of his colleagues at the Islamic University, Gaza in their vital work on the Planning and Primary Design of a Wastewater Treatment Plant for Al Shifa Hospital.”
The centre has also been running research fellowships for students of Gaza and the West Bank for last four years, with a view to tackle the water shortage problem.