World, Middle East

UN expert warns of ‘catastrophic’ lack of clean drinking water in Gaza

Pedro Arrojo warns that hundreds of thousands are drinking unclean or salty water to survive

Alyssa Mcmurtry  | 04.11.2023 - Update : 05.11.2023
UN expert warns of ‘catastrophic’ lack of clean drinking water in Gaza Water shortage causes long queues in Gaza ( Abed Rahim Khatib - Anadolu Agency )


UN expert Pedro Arrojo on Saturday warned of the “catastrophic” lack of clean drinking water in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Spanish daily El Pais, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation said hundreds of thousands of people in the besieged enclave are drinking unhealthy and salty water to survive.

“People who die in bombings will be included in the statistics, but those who get ill from drinking unsafe water will remain in the shadows,” he said.

In a joint statement released on Thursday, Arrojo and seven other UN experts said they are “convinced that the Palestinian people are at a grave risk of genocide.”

The El Pais interview explained that Gaza has three main sources of water: Aquifers, desalination plants, and water pipelines connected to Israel.

According to UNICEF, 96% of the water from Gaza’s sole aquifer is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

The vast majority of the clean drinking water comes from desalination plants. However, with a lack of electricity supply and fuel shortages, due to the Israeli blockade, those plants are running at minimal capacity.

“Cutting off energy means cutting off water,” Arrojo said.

With 'time running out,' cease-fire urged

As for the water pipes connected with Israel, which supply around 10% of Gaza’s water, they were cut off at the beginning of the war. Two of the three pipes began partially working again on Oct. 15. However, as of Nov. 1, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that none of the pipes are functioning.

Meanwhile, the aid trucks trickling through the Rafah crossing with Egypt aren’t even able to cover 1% of Gaza’s water needs, Arrojo said, calling Israel’s actions a “crime against humanity.”

Faced with a struggle to stay hydrated, Arrojo said many people are drinking salty water extracted from wells. This water can cause reactions like vomiting or diarrhea, which can exacerbate dehydration or kidney problems.

“Drinking this water will make you vomit, but if you don’t, you’ll be dead in five or six days,” he said.

Gaza’s five sewage treatment plants have also closed. Waste is mixing with aquifers and accumulating in some streets, sparking more risks of disease, El Pais reported.

With “time running out” and 2 million Gazans struggling to find water, Arrojo and six other UN experts are calling for Israel to agree to an immediate cease-fire.

Even before the siege, citizens of Gaza struggled with the worst drinking water conditions in the region.

“The long-term Israeli blockade has caused a serious deterioration of water security in Gaza,” a joint statement from the Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in 2021. “The residents of the besieged enclave are forced to witness the slow poisoning of their children and loved ones.”

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