How much water and power does Gaza have?
Amid concern for humanitarian situation, how much water and power does Gaza have?
Israel has severely reduced water supply to Strip and halted provision of all electricity and fuel, but maintains there is enough water and power to prevent a humanitarian crisis
Palestinians fill containers with water in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, October 20, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza following the terror group’s October 7 massacres has been accompanied by extremely tight restrictions on the entry of food, fuel, water and other humanitarian supplies to the coastal enclave.
On October 9, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that he had ordered “a complete siege” on Gaza and that there would “be no electricity, no food, no fuel,” entering the territory, while Energy Minister Yisrael Katz said he instructed the water authority to cut off Israel’s water supply to the Strip on the same day.
But the provision of some supplies, including water, has resumed to a limited extent, following heavy international pressure — particularly from the Biden administration — amid concerns voiced by the UN and international NGOs that a humanitarian crisis could develop in Gaza.
Katz said on October 15 that water supplies would be resumed to the southern Gaza Strip, while over 80 trucks carrying humanitarian aid, including food, water and medicine, have been allowed to enter the territory since October 21, through the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza.
The supply of water and electricity are considered critical for preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, so what is the current status of those two necessities in the Hamas-controlled territory?
Before October 7, Israel supplied the Gaza Strip with 18 million cubic meters (18 billion liters) of potable water a year through three water pipelines, some nine percent of the enclave’s annual use.
Palestinian up fill water containers in the street in Gaza City, October 12, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Gaza itself produced the remainder, some 200 million cubic meters of water per year, with the water pumped from the Coastal Aquifer lying underneath the Strip and Israel’s coastal plain, or desalinated.
The water pumped from the aquifer — approximately 79 percent of the water produced in Gaza, according to Dr. Elai Rettig of Bar Ilan University’s Political Science Department — is not fit for drinking due to its high salinity.
The aquifer has been contaminated with seawater due to poor management practices and is therefore purified in six water treatment facilities in Gaza.
The water treatment facilities usually rely on electricity from the main Gaza electricity grid to power their operations, but also have backup diesel generators.
At least one of the three major desalination plants in Gaza, the EU-funded Southern Gaza Desalination Plant, also has solar panels which provide power to operate the plant.
A desalination plant in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, December 8, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Following the resumption of some water supply to the southern Gaza strip, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Tuesday (October 24) that some 200 cubic meters (200,000 liters) per hour was being supplied through the southern water pipeline, down from 600 cubic meters per hour in the pre-war period.
On Wednesday, OCHA reported that the supply rate had increased to 600 cubic meters (600,000 liters) per hour.
That would equate to 14,400,000 liters a day, or a third of the total pre-war supply. Gaza has a population of approximately 2.1 million people, meaning that the current amount of piped water from Israel equates to 6.8 liters of water per person, per day.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that between 50 to 100 liters of water are needed per capita each day to ensure that basic needs are met. The figure includes water for cleaning homes and washing clothes.
The WHO states however that 15 liters of water per person, per day could suffice in emergencies, and even as little as 7.5 liters per person at the beginning of an emergency period could be enough for the most basic needs of drinking, cooking and basic hygiene requirements.
In addition to the piped water, OCHA stated on Tuesday that a desalination plant in Khan Younis, one of three major desalination plants in Gaza, had restarted operations at 7 percent capacity on October 21, after the UNRWA agency “managed to coordinate the retrieval and distribution of fuel from one of its storage facilities in Gaza.”
And on Wednesday, OCHA said another desalination plant resumed “limited operations” the day before, and that together with the Khan Younis facility were producing 4,000 cubic meters (four million liters) of water a day.
UNICEF also provided “small quantities of fuel they had retrieved from their own reserves within Gaza” to deliver to “key water facilities” providing those connected to the water network with 30 liters of water per person, per day, OCHA said.
A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid enters the Gaza Strip from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing on October 21, 2023. (Eyad Baba/AFP)
The organization claimed however that fuel supplies to power these facilities would run out by Thursday.
Some 120 water wells and 20 pumping stations, which also received limited amounts of fuel, are also in operation, OCHA said.
In addition, five trucks containing 40,000 liters of water, 4,500 family hygiene kits, and 12 community water storage tanks acquired by UNICEF, entered Gaza from Egypt on October 24.
OCHA has said however that Gazan residents have been consuming water with over 3,000 milligrams per liter of salt content from agricultural wells.
Such water would be defined as moderately saline according to the US Geological Survey, and poses health risks such as increased hypertension levels, especially for vulnerable population groups such as young babies and pregnant women.
Rettig said that the use of such water for drinking could lead to outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases.
He added however that it was impossible to know the exact situation of water and electricity supply in Gaza, since Hamas governs the territory and controls information on such issues.
The IDF insists however that there is currently no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that it is closely monitoring the situation.
A spokesman for UNICEF, which is deeply involved in the daily provision of water to Gaza’s population, declined several requests for information on the operational status of Gaza’s water treatment facilities and desalination plants.
Electricity and fuel
For Gaza’s electric supply, before the war, Israel provided 50 percent of the territory’s needs through ten electricity lines.
A general view of the only electrical plant that generates electricity in the central Gaza Strip, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Israel shut off electricity to Gaza on October 11 and has not resumed the supply.
A diesel-fueled power station normally provides another 25 percent of Gaza’s supply, while solar panels and private generators make up the remainder.
The power station is not working at present according to OCHA, meaning the Hamas-run enclave is essentially operating on less than 25 percent of its estimated pre-war supply.
In peacetime, Gaza gets some 25 percent of its daytime electricity supply from solar panels, according to Rettig, a resource that is obviously still available.
But even before the war, the supply of electricity in Gaza was extremely patchy, with an average of only 13 hours a day according to OCHA, which Rettig attributed to the Hamas government’s failure to adequately maintain the grid.
On Tuesday, UNRWA warned it would run out of fuel by Wednesday, before noting a day later that new fuel supplies had been secured, although it said these would run out by Thursday.
Israel has insisted that it is not responsible for the provision of energy to the enemy enclave and that Hamas has stockpiled fuel to enable it to operate its tunnel network and run its war machine against the Jewish state.
IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus told the BBC on Thursday that Hamas has stockpiled between 850,000 to one million liters of fuel, which could be used for diesel-powered generators to operate water facilities or power hospitals.
An image shared by the IDF showing twelve oil tanks in which Hamas allegedly stores its reserves while the Gaza Strip is running out of fuel during the ongoing war with Israel, October 24, 2023. (Account of the IDF Arabic spokesman on X, formerly Twitter)
Conricus also pointed out in a briefing earlier on Thursday that foreign media outlets have been reporting since at least October 16 that Gaza was set to run out of fuel, electricity and water within 24 hours, a situation that has yet to transpire.
The IDF spokesman insisted the amount of fuel amassed by Hamas is sufficient to pump water and operate hospitals for “many days,” and also noted a statement from UNRWA itself on October 16 that Hamas officials from the Gaza health ministry stole fuel and medical equipment from its Gaza City compound.
UNRWA subsequently deleted the statement and claimed nothing was looted.
On Tuesday, the IDF published pictures of what it said were Hamas-controlled fuel tanks in Gaza, claiming they contained “half a million liters of diesel.”
Numerous hospitals in Gaza have installed solar power panels with battery systems and also have backup diesel generators, to ensure an ongoing electricity supply for sensitive departments such as intensive care and neonatal units.
However, those batteries are likely designed to manage the transfer from solar power to generator power after sunset for a couple of hours, rather than provide electricity throughout the night, Rettig said.
Wounded Palestinians are treated at Al-Najjar Hospital following an Israeli airstrike in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, October 19, 2023, (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Only 23 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals are currently functioning, according to the WHO’s emergency situation report on October 23, with bed occupancy above 100 percent in the seven major hospitals.
The other 12 hospitals have closed due to damage from Israeli airstrikes and fuel shortages, a WHO official said.
The official said that 1,000 patients in the territory are currently dependent on dialysis machines, along with 130 premature babies who need a range of care, and intensive care patients or those requiring surgery “who depend on a stable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to stay alive.”
“WHO reiterates its call for safe passage for the delivery of health supplies and fuel throughout the Gaza Strip,” the official said.
In response to a post on X by UNRWA on Tuesday saying it would have to shut down operations on Wednesday night due to a lack of fuel, the official IDF account reposted the comment with a picture of the Gaza fuel tanks it had drawn attention to, adding “Ask Hamas if you can have some.”
But Rettig said that eventually he believed Israel would have to supply diesel to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the hospitals.
“You can say Hamas needs to provide diesel, but they won’t, so Israel will have to do so to avoid a crisis, you don’t want hospitals to run out of electricity,” he said.