Water catastrophe in Gaza

The destruction and blocking of water supply in Gaza is having devastating short and long-term impacts on civilians.

The world cannot leave 2.3 million people struggling to survive without access to clean water, which is a fundamental human right.

Graphic saying there's no food, water or fuel in Gaza

Bombs are destroying water infrastructure and preventing work to restore supplies

Gaza’s two million plus people are under siege. The water situation is desperate.

  • Essential water and sanitation infrastructure is being destroyed as the bombing and conflict escalates.
  • Water trucking operations are severely hampered or ceased in northern parts.
  • Bottled water stocks are running low. The cost of bottled water has already surged beyond the reach of an average Gaza family. In Gaza, water has become a luxury item.

Gaza has been under blockade for 16 years, limiting regional ability to manage essential resources, particularly water.

Israel has been cutting off or severely limiting water supplies as well as supplies of power, with a blockade on the fuel that keeps power plants running.

Oxfam is a member of the UN Water, Sanitation and Hygiene cluster. They say only three litres of water a day per person are now available in Gaza.

To put this into perspective, the World Health Organisation recommends in an emergency one person needs between 7.5 and 20 litres of water each day to meet basic health needs.

What is the risk of dirty water?

The risk of dirty water is that it carries waterborne diseases, most notably cholera. Cholera causes diarrhea that untreated can be fatal. Children under 5 are particularly vulnerable.

Access to hospitals and medication is impossible for many in Gaza right now, so waterborne diseases are a very serious further threat to life.

Most Gazans are forced to resort to water sources like wells, exposing themselves to waterborne diseases like cholera, with health repercussions that extend far beyond the immediate effects of conflict.

What is desalination?

Desalination is when salt water is treated to remove the salt so it can be consumed.

The Mediterranean Sea runs along one border of Gaza.

On 6th October only one of three desalination plants capable of producing 7% of Gaza’s water supply was operational, with reduced capacity due to the blockade on electricity and fuel.

How is water pumped from wells?

Water is pumped from wells using pumps that run on fuel. No fuel is currently entering Gaza. The fuel that was already in Gaza is running out.

The other reason why the fuel is much needed is the water. We have some water wells in Gaza strip as a second source of water... so pulling out the water from the wells needs pumps. You need fuel to operate these pumps.”

- Fidaa Alaraj, who works for Oxfam in Gaza, speaking on 21 October

What is water trucking?

Water trucking is when water is transported to areas that do not have water in trucks. Water trucking operations have ceased.

What are water tanks?

Water tanks are very large tanks on stilts where water is stored. Water tanks in Gaza had been dismantled even before this emergency.

What are Jerry cans?

Jerry cans are plastic water containers that are used to carry water.

Water aid in the form of bottles and jerry cans coming from Egypt is only addressing 4% of the needs.

How is wastewater in Gaza managed?

All five of Gaza’s wastewater treatment plants and most of its 65 sewage pumping stations have been forced to shut down.

Solid waste is piling up on the streets, posing significant health hazards.

With sewage systems and wastewater treatment plants non-operational due to a lack of fuel, over 130,000 cubic meters – 52 Olympic-sized swimming pools - of untreated wastewater is being discharged into the Mediterranean Sea daily.

The lack of wastewater treatment and the discharge of sewage into the sea will cause environmental damage that could have long-term consequences for the region's ecology, and damage civilians' livelihoods.

How does lack of water raise the risk of diseases?

Lack of water raises the risk of diseases because you cannot wash without water. Children under five are particularly vulnerable to this water shortage, facing the risk of diarrheal diseases.

This represents a tragic escalation of civilian suffering, with the youngest the most severely impacted.

How does lack of water in Gaza impact women and girls?

The lack of water is having a heavy impact on women and girls. With limited water, mothers struggle to make baby formula, and the trauma of conflict is affecting breast milk production. (Watch Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Ruth James talk about formula and breast milk here)

The scarcity of water and lack of privacy in overcrowded conditions also make menstrual management a significant challenge, leading many women to take medication to alter menstrual cycles.

Lack of water also makes the dire healthcare situation worse, with over 50,000 women at risk of giving birth in non-operational hospitals that lack supplies.

This not only endangers women’s physical health but also their dignity and emotional well-being.

How does lack of water in Gaza put lives at immediate risk in hospitals?

Lack of water in hospitals in Gaza is putting the lives of thousands of inpatients at immediate risk.

Water is essential for maintaining sanitary conditions in hospitals, preventing hospital-associated infections, and saving the lives of patients in critical care.

Healthcare workers need water to keep going and do their jobs.

What is Oxfam doing in Gaza?

Oxfam partners have begun a small distribution of soap, shampoo, menstrual products and toothpaste.

The scale of need and logistical chaos pose massive challenges to humanitarian response.

The world cannot leave 2.3 million people struggling to survive without access to clean water, which is a fundamental human right.

Cutting off water represents a clear violation of international humanitarian law, which explicitly protects vital civilian infrastructure, including water systems (UN Security Council Resoultion 2573) .

Urgent international action is needed to prevent a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions and to address the immediate and long-term consequences of the Gaza water crisis.

That’s why we have been calling for an immediate and lasting ceasefire and for Israel to restore water to Gaza.

A lasting ceasefire will mean Oxfam and other agencies can respond. Much of that response will be around water:

  • Providing people with clean water, sanitation and hygiene items
  • Rehabilitation of water and wastewater networks that have been destroyed in the bombing.

This response cannot come soon enough.

Read more about the unfolding water catastrophe in Gaza on our Views and Voices blog.