An amber alert has been issued over the Gaza Strip's water crisis which is having a serious impact on public health, with children, in particular, facing the risk of water-borne disease, a British charity has warned.
Gaza has been under a strict Israeli siege for 14 years and has been subject to repeated Israeli onslaughts during that period which have led to wide scale damage, high rates of unemployment and poverty.
According to Human Appeal, the severe restrictions on Gaza have left nearly two million people with severely limited access to clean water, depriving civilians of regular access to drinkable water.
"Winter is especially brutal in Gaza. Families already face a debilitating blockade, medical shortages, daily power cuts, unemployment and undrinkable water," said Dr Mahmoud Shatat, Human Appeal's Global Water and Sanitation Hygiene Adviser.
He added the 11-day Israeli offensive on Gaza last May severely affected basic water infrastructure and exacerbated the crisis in the besieged enclave.
"The most vulnerable families still haven't recovered from the bombings in May, when over 50,000 homes were damaged, and now they face a freezing winter with heavy rains and flooding."
"The entire population of Gaza are at risk of waterborne diseases, such as kidney failure, dehydration, and fatal diarrheal disease. One of the biggest health risks of children today in Gaza is drinking contaminated water. Even prior to the last escalation, the entire population of the Gaza Strip depended on one single aquifer for water, which is chronically contaminated by salt water and sewage."
Additionally, many people in Gaza must resort to buying their drinking water from private suppliers as municipal tap water often does not work because of long power outages, and is usually too salty to drink even when it does.
Therefore, Human Appeal UK have started building a desalination plant in the Rafah area of Gaza, including three wells, projected to provide clean and safe drinking water for to up to 60,000 people for the next 15 years, as well as providing school and university students with clean drinking water through the supply and installation of decentralised desalination units.
"More urgent help is needed as 97% of ground water in Gaza is undrinkable, forcing families in Gaza to spend a third of their income to buy what they can afford in bottled water, often at extortionate rates," said Dr Shatat.
Human rights organisations have warned for years about the deteriorating water situation in the Gaza Strip. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), both salinity and nitrate levels in Gaza's groundwater have been "well above" the guidelines for safe drinking water.
About 50 per cent of Gaza's children suffer from water-related infections, the WHO said.