GAZA CITY: It has been a year since the latest conflict between Israel and Gaza, and life in the Strip has steadily worsened.
An eight-year-blockade, constant fighting, a growing population and overcrowding, has led the United Nations to warn that Gaza could become uninhabitable within five years.
"Will Gaza be a liveable place in 2020? Gaza is still under blockade, the infrastructure is destroyed, the water is not drinkable, the exportation is banned,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, media advisor at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
“All of these factors is in addition to the fact that Gaza is the most crowded place on earth. The rate of the increase of the population might even be the highest in the Middle East.”
The UN report highlights the severe crises in Gaza specifically related to water and power.
Most of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants rely on the coastal aquifer - their main source of fresh water - but 95 per cent of this water is not safe to drink. Overpumping has significantly lowered the groundwater level, allowing seawater to seep in and contaminate the freshwater.
The drop in groundwater level has also led to agricultural fertilisers and untreated sewage polluting the fresh water. All this has resulted in high levels of nitrogen and chloride in the freshwater, making it unfit for drinking.
"The UN report mentions clearly that the water sector’s crisis starts in 2016,” said Monther Shublaq, general manager of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility.
“The rest of the sector may have the chance to survive until 2020, but not the water. We produce 200 million cubic metres, yet the underground aquifer produces 55-60 million cubic metres of water yearly. This causes the seawater to take over the aquifers and results in water salinity."
The scenario for electricity is not much better. An Israeli airstrike in 2006 targeting Gaza’s sole power plant marked the start of an electricity crisis that is still ongoing.
According to the UN, only 45 per cent of the electricity needed is supplied.
"The Gaza Strip faces a severe energy shortage which increases year after year,” said Energy and Natural Resources Ministry Spokesperson Ahmad Abu Alamarain. “In 2006, Gaza's needs were about 215 megawatts. Now, in 2015. It’s around 450 megawatts, and is expected to double by 2020. There is no increase in the resources needed to cover the increase in power consumption."
The UN report concludes that economic prospects for the rest of the year are "bleak” – and will become bleaker – as the political situation continues to deteriorate alongside reduced aid and the slow pace of reconstruction.
Gazans say they have survived the devastation of three wars and nearly a decade of an Israeli blockade, but the biggest challenge they now face is overcoming the disastrous findings of the UN report.