More than a quarter of illnesses in Gaza are caused by water pollution, a new study has said, noting that this is the main cause of mortality in the coastal enclave that has endured an Israeli siege since 2007.
The study, which the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a copy of, was carried out by RAND Corporation, an American NGO. It said that it reached these findings four years ago and that "since that time these numbers have continued to grow".
Based on the report, Haaretz said that the collapse of water infrastructure has led to a sharp rise in germs and viruses such as rotavirus, cholera and salmonella.
The report said the situation is worsening due to repeated Israeli operations in Gaza which started in 2008.
"Today, 97 per cent of drinking water in the Strip is not drinkable by any recognised international standard," Haaretz reported.
"Some 90 per cent of residents drink water from private purifiers, because the larger installations have been damaged by fighting or have fallen into disuse since they couldn't be maintained," the Israeli paper continued.
Not enough water supplies
The study concluded that the current situation is that "Gaza is incapable of supplying enough water for its 2 million inhabitants".
"Gaza schools have one toilet per 75 pupils and one sink for washing hands per 80. Most of this water is either recycled or from a reservoir. As a result, the very presence of children in these schools puts them at risk of contracting gastrointestinal diseases."
It also said: "Schools, public buildings and hospitals are only cleaned when necessary in order to conserve water. Hospital staff only wash their hands when it's essential and not on a regular basis when going from one patient to another, in order to conserve the water for life-saving treatment."
Haaretz also reported that the "researchers estimate that within two years, even the isolated sources of water used today will cease to operate without proper maintenance".
The study said that the average cost of water use per capita in the West is 0.7 per cent of monthly wages, but in Gaza a third of monthly wages goes toward the purchase of water, pointing out that the high rate of unemployment makes many people unable to buy clean water.
"The few, wealthier people in Gaza can purchase bottled mineral water but most Gaza residents must suffice with the one day a week that the authorities turn on the taps for a few hours."