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The Gaza Aquifer: A Dramatic Example of Failing Water Diplomacy

In line with UPH’s focus on water diplomacy issues, UPH Chairman Robert Serry took part in the Water & Peace Seminar organized by the IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education. In a keynote speech on 18 January 2018, he offered a “diplomat’s perspective” on transboundary water diplomacy, focusing on the water and sanitation crisis in Gaza.

Noting the disconnect between ideal technical solutions being studied and offered in the academic world and their feasibility and practical implementation in the world of politics, Serry defined the seminar’s challenge as follows: how to bridge the gap between the technical feasibility in addressing water issues and their political implementability?



This question is most acute in Gaza, where the aquifer – Gaza’s only natural source of fresh water – risks to become irreversibly damaged by 2020. Inadequate waste water treatment installations and chronic energy shortages also cause massive dumping of untreated waste water into the sea (100.000 cubic meters per day, equaling 43 Olympic-size swimming pools!).


Urgent steps are needed to address this almost entirely man-made disaster, which is complicated by prolonged conflict and occupation. Three wars between 2009 and 2014 have led to prolonged de-development in the region. The search for solutions is hampered by the limited access to Gaza, due to Israeli and Egyptian border closures, and by a crisis of local governance in Gaza caused by a split in the Palestinian leadership. Serry – who served as United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in the region – raised the question whether international humanitarian intervention was required in this instance to uphold the human right to safe and clean drinking water. Noting that the Netherlands intends to focus on water scarcity as a cause of conflict during its tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council this year, he expressed the hope that the Dutch government would take another serious look at the water crisis in Gaza.


The Delft seminar provided an important opportunity for scientists, practitioners and diplomats to discuss a more concerted approach to transboundary water issues. At the seminar, a Universities’ Partnership for Water Cooperation and Diplomacy was established by IHE Delft, Oregon State University, University of Geneva and the German-Kazakh University. The official launch took place at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. The University for Peace in Costa Rica, which UPH represents in Europe, has accepted to join the initiative as one of its core members.


Photo: Palestinian girl transporting jerrycans filled with water in the town of Rafah in southern Gaza amidst the rubble of destroyed houses, July 2014. (UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0978/El Baba).


See also in UPH news:
From Water conflicts to Water cooperation. The role of Water Diplomacy (7 Feb 2018)