Gaza’s water crisis explained

Amid a devastating escalation in the region, families in Gaza are struggling to find safe water to drink. It’s a problem many have experienced before but, as the escalation stretches on, the lack of water is becoming more acute – and increasingly, a matter of survival. Here, we explain the causes and effects of Gaza’s ongoing water crisis.

What’s happening in Gaza?

Gaza is under bombardment amid a serious escalation in the region that has so far left thousands of people dead, and tens of thousands more injured across the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.

In the last week, more than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate northern Gaza and move to the south of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has cut electricity, fuel and water supplies to Gaza as part of a ‘total blockade’ of the territory and has so far not allowed aid into the coastal enclave. In recent hours an agreement has been announced to allow a small amount of humanitarian aid in through the Egyptian border, but this is nowhere near enough to meet the huge needs.

Does Gaza rely on Israel for water?

Israel controls most water resources and related infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Most of Gaza’s water comes from a small part of the Coastal Aquifer – a body of rock that holds groundwater. However it is contaminated with saltwater and untreated sewage and is not enough to meet the huge needs of the growing population.

The remaining water supply comes from a desalination plant and wells, and some that is purchased from Israel.

Israel also controls what materials can enter Gaza for maintaining and repairing Gaza’s water infrastructure, which is old and has been repeatedly damaged by bombing.

How is the ‘total blockade’ affecting the water supply?

Without fuel or electricity, it is impossible to supply Gaza’s homes, hospitals, farms and schools with water. Gaza’s desalination plant has shut down this week due to lack of fuel.

Gaza does not have a water grid that all buildings are connected to, rather buildings have water tanks which are filled regularly. Without electricity or fuel, water cannot be transported to these tanks, nor can it travel from the tanks into taps, showers and hoses for use.

Large water tankers previously distributed water to homes and other buildings, but bombing has made it too dangerous for drivers to travel to even fill up their tankers, let alone service their normal routes. Even without the bombing, the lack of fuel would present a huge challenge for deliveries.

Gaza residents are travelling in search of enough water to last their families for a couple of days

Many buildings in Gaza also have wells, but without an electricity supply it is almost impossible to pump the water from these wells into the buildings’ storage tanks. While generators have long been used to cover patches in Gaza’s electricity supply, now people are struggling to find fuel to run the generators.

Even when people are able to draw water from a well, the water is usually not safe to drink.

The United Nations has described the lack of water as a “matter of life and death” for the more than 2 million people living in Gaza.

It estimated that the average person in Gaza is currently consuming 3 litres of water per day. The World Health Organization recommends individuals have access to a minimum of 50-100 litres per day.

On top of the blockade, bombing has destroyed pipelines and other key water treatment infrastructure.

How are people coping with the situation?

Securing enough water for 1 family has become a time consuming and labour-intensive daily task. Islamic Relief staff in Gaza have described the ongoing frustration of getting access to a well, only to have to find a generator, only to then have to search for fuel to power it, only to have to come up with a solution to carry heavy loads of water back home without fuel for trucks and cars.

Families are doing what they can to reduce their water usage to the bare minimum. Women carefully consider which meals to prepare based on how much water it will take to make them and how many dishes will need to be washed afterwards. While others have had to schedule set times to flush the toilet each day to conserve water.

Simple, everyday tasks that are normally performed without much thought, now require constant consideration and adaptation.

What was the situation like before the current escalation?

The humanitarian situation in Gaza was dire even before this month’s escalation and access to clean water was limited.

In June, UNICEF reported that 96% of water in Gaza was not safe for human consumption. On top of the poor quality of the water, there were also severe issues with maintaining a reliable supply of water to households and facilities due to a lack of fuel and electricity.

This situation led many people to buy expensive bottled water, putting further strain on already stretched incomes, or to risk drinking water that they know is unsafe.

What are the risks of drinking unsafe water?

Water is essential for human life and most people cannot survive more than a few days without it. When a person becomes dehydrated, essential bodily functions get disrupted. This can lead to death in extreme cases.

Drinking unsafe water exposes people to waterborne diseases, many of which can be life-threatening and require medical treatment that facilities in Gaza will struggle to provide amid the current crisis.

The search for water has become an arduous daily task in Gaza

Much of the water in Gaza is contaminated with salt and other minerals. Drinking this type of water can lead to severe kidney problems and eventually death by dehydration.

Kidney issues are already a serious issue in Gaza, which experiences a 13-14% annual increase in the number of patients suffering from kidney problems, according to Oxfam.

How else is the lack of water affecting Gaza?

Water is essential in maintaining hygiene and sanitation. Without a reliable supply, homes and hospitals in Gaza are struggling to maintain safe conditions.

Meanwhile, homes have been destroyed by bombing and more than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate northern Gaza. This situation has resulted in overcrowding in temporary shelters, and a sharp population rise in southern Gaza.

Large numbers of people living in close proximity present a risk of disease outbreak, which is much more severe when hygiene cannot be maintained.

Gaza’s sewage processing plants have ceased to function, meaning sewage is accumulating in the streets or being dumped into the sea.

Without water, farmers cannot irrigate their crops or care for their animals, meaning the food supply could be affected.

While for Gaza’s Muslim-majority population, water also holds a spiritual significance and is needed to perform ritual cleansing before prayer.

Can’t we repurpose water from the sea? What about rainwater?

Gaza’s desert climate means rainwater is not a reliable source of water throughout the year. Like many parts of the world, Gaza is experiencing the effects of climate change and seeing hotter, drier periods.

Despite the climatic conditions, it is important to note that the water crisis in Gaza is largely man made and a direct result of occupation. Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem share roughly the same climate, but there is a stark difference in Palestinians’ ability to access water as well as the quality of that water.

The average Israeli citizen consumes around 240 litres of water per day, three times that of a Palestinian in the West Bank (82 litres) and 80 times what people in Gaza currently have access to.

Desalination is a process several countries use to remove salt from seawater, making it safe to use for drinking and farming. It is particularly heavily employed in the Middle East and Gaza does have a desalination plant. However, without stable electricity and fuel supplies, the desalination plant cannot function properly and provide safe water.

On top of this, Gaza’s access to the sea is tightly restricted and has become more so since the escalation began.


How is water linked to human rights?

The United Nations recognises access to water and sanitation as a human right “fundamental to everyone’s health, dignity and prosperity.”

The organisation says everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is “physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, education institution, workplace or health institution.”

Islamic Relief has been a lifeline to vulnerable people in Gaza for decades. We have distributed drinking water amid conflicts, repaired damaged water supplies, and provided clean drinking water to over 1 million people in schools and health facilities. However, the total blockade has seen water supplies dwindle to dangerous levels.

With the humanitarian crisis spiralling out of control, Islamic Relief continues to call on world leaders for action to ensure an end to the siege. Aid – including clean, safe water – must be allowed to reach all civilians in need.

Please help Islamic Relief to support people in desperate need in Gaza. Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.

new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Board of Directors
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 20 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.