The three forms of weaponisation of water In Gaza

11 Dec 2023 by The Water Diplomat

A series of events over the past months show the systematic weaponization of water in Gaza by Israeli forces on all three fronts, i.e. the use of water to gain leverage through flooding, contamination, or constriction (reducing access).

Related to the first form of weaponization, i.e. flooding, On the 4th of December the Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli forces had assembled a system of five large pumps that it could use to flood Hamas’ network of tunnels under Gaza. On the 5th of December, Israeli Defence Force chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi appeared to confirm that he thought that this was a good idea. In response to this plan, Prof. (Emer.) Eilon Adar of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at Ben-Gurion University warned that if millions of cubic metres of seawater were to be pumped into the tunnels, this could have a long term negative effect on groundwater quality that could last for generations.  Russia has warned that such a move would be considered a war crime.

Related to the second form of weaponisation, i.e. contamination, the World Health Organisation has expressed concern over the deterioration of public health in Gaza which is in part caused by limitations in access to safely managed water, the prevalence of untreated sewage, and overcrowding through the internal displacement of 1.8 million people. Before the 7th of October, 97% of the water supplies in Gaza were already unsafe to drink, with high salinity levels and contamination by e-coli. Since then, according to the WHO, the risk of bacterial infections has risen significantly due to the shutting down of the last functioning desalinization plants in mid-October. The lack of fuel has also led to the disruption of solid waste collection. The monitoring of public heath is becoming a challenge as the number of functioning hospitals has dropped from 36 to 18 within the space of one month. Despite this loss of monitoring capacity, during November, Health Policy Watch Health Policy Watch reported a massive rise in diarrhoea reported a massive rise in diarrhoea, respiratory infections and skin conditions in Gaza which was more than 16 times higher than the average.    

In relation to the third form of weaponisation, i.e. constriction, the Israeli Minister of Energy, Israel Katz, made the weaponisation of electricity, water and fuel official government policy on the 12th of October, announcing that neither electricity, water nor fuel would be supplied to the Gaza strip until the hostages taken by Hamas were returned. While the average consumption of water in Gaza was 83 litres per day prior to the recent outbreak of conflict in early October, the average access to water had dropped to 3 litres per day in mid October.  On the 10th of December, Israeli warplanes reportedly  destroyed water supply lines in Khan Younis and Rafah, further limiting already scarce water supplies to Gaza.