21 November 2012

On Sunday 18 November 2012 at approximately 4 pm, an Israeli airstrike hit a water distribution truck in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, killing the driver Suhail Hamada and his 10 year-old son. EWASH condemns this attack and calls on the Government of Israel to take all precautions to protect civilians and their infrastructure.
The Coastal Aquifer, Gaza’s sole source of fresh water, is depleting and unsuitable for human consumption. The UN says that the aquifer may become unusable by 2016 while Israel’s blockade, on its 6th year, has prevented rehabilitation. The majority of households in Gaza rely on trucked water for consumption because water from taps is polluted. After the incident, water vendors have reportedly stopped operating fearing for their safety. Agencies on the ground have verified that stocks of drinking water are beginning to run out as households return to drinking from municipal water supplies deemed unsafe.
The latest round of violence also saw damage to water networks in Khan Younis and Rafah. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities (CMWU), responsible for water supply to the Strip, complained of access difficulties for maintenance staff. Interruption of municipal water supply has affected southern and middle areas most. “Our maintenance staff cannot access municipal water wells and we are running out of fuel to run back-up generators during power cuts” said Eng. Shatat of CMWU.
Also on 18 November 2012, at approximately 6pm, Israeli airstrikes destroyed a water reservoir that was under construction in Al-Mughraqa area. The reservoir was funded by the Islamic Development Bank and intended to serve 150 thousand people in the middle area of the Gaza Strip.
“The fighting must stop and humanitarian access must be allowed or we risk running into a crisis,” said Ghada Snunu, spokesperson for EWASH in Gaza. This is not the first time water and sanitation facilities have been targeted. During ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008/9 extensive damage was registered at a cost of $6 million. A subsequent UN Fact Finding report deemed the targeting of water and sanitation infrastructure by the Israeli military as “deliberate and systematic”.
EWASH calls on world leaders to take swift action to enforce a ceasefire and calls on parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect and ensure the protection of civilian objects indispensable for survival of civilian populations, such as drinking water installations and supplies. EWASH wishes to remind all concerned that any direct attack against such objects would be a war crime and it is the legal responsibility of all States to ensure that International Humanitarian Law is respected.


Notes to editors:
1. Founded in 2002, the Emergency Water and Sanitation/Hygiene group (EWASH) is a coalition of humanitarian agencies working together to coordinate interventions, respond to needs, share information and do advocacy on the water and sanitation sector in the OPT. Members include local and international NGOs and UN agencies. Visit www.ewash.org full list of members
2. For details on Gaza’s dying aquifer see UN Gaza 2020 report: http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/file/publications/gaza/Gaza%20in%202020.pdf