This idea is a social enterprise. It tackles the problem of access to clean and affordable drinking water in the Gaza Strip. Water from wells is polluted and represents a major health hazard, bottled water remains unaffordable for 95% of the population, and all other sources are untrustworthy and inconsistent.
Our idea addresses the problem by providing clean and affordable bottled drinking water for the Gazan population. We plan to do so through the installation of an energy-efficient desalination plant that bottles the clean drinking water instead of reintroducing it into the polluted water systems in the Gaza Strip.
We believe that our idea is at the crossroads of peace, planet, and prosperity:
- Prosperity: our project provides access to clean drinking water for communities that currently lacks it, while providing quality employment opportunities. Our project will contribute to reduced overall water costs for the local population and improved health outcomes.
- Peace: our project will contribute to directly mitigate conflicts linked to water in the Gaza strip. More generally our project will contribute to stability in a volatile region
- Planet: our project will allow to reduce the pressure on the Gaza aquifer by using sea water as a water source. Our project introduces the use of reusable polycarbonate bottles which are not currently used in Gaza as opposed to disposable containers;
In the Gaza Strip, 2 million people are facing one of the world’s worst drinking water crisis in an urban setting. In fact, the United Nations believe that the Gaza Strip could become fully uninhabitable by 2020.
Just like most urban areas in lowest income countries, water on tap is rare and polluted. Tap water, extracted from a contaminated and rapidly disappearing aquifer, is saline and polluted with bacteria and heavy metals: undrinkable, and unusable even for basic cleaning.
Low-income families purchase at high-cost water from unregulated private vendors which offer no guarantees in terms of quality or safety. The water from these wells represent a major health hazard: currently, approximately a third of diseases in the Gaza Strip are water-related. Imported bottled water is sometimes available in higher end stores, but at 0.25 USD per liter, which remains unaffordable for 95% of the population. The worsening water crisis stirs anger and resentment from the population against the current political situation.
It does not have to be this way.
Our team is looking to locally produce, package and distribute clean, affordable drinking water. Water will be packaged in low cost, reusable polycarbonate bottles, which while common in Africa and the rest of the Middle-East, have never been used in Gaza. A small, “off-the-shelve” sea-desalination plant and bottling facility would allow to produce, package and distribute about 80,000 bottles of 20 L per day.
Our project, in partnership with public institutions and the local private sector, is currently in the detailed planning phase, after over 6 months of in-depth technical research and field work.
MEET ASMA, A MOTHER OF FOUR STRUGGLING TO FIND CLEAN DRINKING WATER IN GAZA
Asma is a young and educated housewife living in one of Gaza City’s surrounding towns. With a bachelor degree, her husband is more qualified than the majority of the Gazan population and is lucky enough to have a full-time job, in a region with more than 50% unemployment. While Asma’s family has more privileges than most, when it comes to water, all Gazans suffer equally.
Asma’s tap water is dry in summer. In winter, it is so polluted that it shouldn’t be used for showering or cleaning clothes. Asma would prefer to buy bottled water, but bottled water isn’t available in her community – and transport to Gaza city is expensive in the absence of public transport. For drinking and cooking, Asma buys 500 liters each month from truck vendors, which she doesn’t trust but, as she puts it, “we have no choice”. Every two weeks, before the arrival of the water truck, Asma scrubs and clean the household’s 200-liter tank, – a fastidious and time-consuming job.
Water is a constant worry for Asma and her family: which vendor to trust? Should I boil this water? Should we buy a filter? She doesn’t trust the grocery store that refills jerrycans: the tank is outdoors, near garbage cans, and stray dogs come to lick drops from its tap. In the absence of regulation and test, Asma looks at the color and taste of water to determine if it is safe to drink. What Asma does not know, is that her water is also chemically contaminated.
Asma’s sister who works in a nearby hospital tells her about the increasing number of water disease cases she witnesses. Water diseases now constitute 1/3 of all illnesses in the strip. This becomes a heavy source of stress and anxiety on a population already tired from years of conflict and privations.
The local municipalities have no means to test the water or guarantee its quality. Some water tank owners are more careful than others on the source of the water, but at the end of the day, all water is pumped from the aquifer. This can lead to long-term health hazards that are seldom understood locally, and a rise in longer-term diseases is already visible.
WATER CONSUMPTION IN THE GAZA STRIP: BACKGROUND INFORMATION
In Gaza, tap water supply is intermittent, with just 48% of households supplied with running water four to seven days per week and 52% of households supplied three days or less. 95% of this tap water is too salty to be drinkable or even used for appliances and cleaning.
This leaves Gazans reliant on non-municipal private sector providers:
- The wealthiest 1% purchase imported water bottles (USD $0.3 – 0.5 per liter)
- The less well-off rely on roof tanks which are filled 2-4 times a month by a water truck ($USD 8-12 per cm). Water trucks are unregulated and offer no guarantees in terms of quality or safety, and most water sold is contaminated (chemically and bacteriologically). Contamination, which occurs systematically during distribution, often starts at the water well, as Gaza’s aquifer has become increasingly contaminated with untreated sewage.
- The poorest families pay USD $0.25 for the right to fill a rectangular-shaped, 18-liter container from a tap at water tanks operated by local shop owners. (see Figure 1). This water is typically the most contaminated.
94% of the 160 million cubic meters of water consumed annually in Gaza is extracted from the aquifer, Gaza’s only local freshwater source. This aquifer is rapidly depleting at a rate that will render it fully unusable by 2020. In parallel, with steady population growth, overall demand for drinking water will increase by over 60% between today and 2020. In 2020, total water needs in 2020 could reach 270 million cubic meters.
WHERE WE STAND ON THE SOLUTION
This project is in the feasibility study phase after over 11 months of in-depth feasibility research at the technical level.
- Identified a suitable site for the water production plant and bottling facility, with limited on-site infrastructure (lower CAPEX) and access to cheapest and most reliable power in Gaza (lower OPEX);
- Obtained in-principle policy approvals from all relevant stakeholders including Israeli Authorities, government bodies in Palestine;
- Mapped authorization processes for the project life cycle;
- Commissioned and received technical feasibility study, conducted by AECOM;
- Shortlisted EPC contractors – awaiting pricing proposal.
- Conducted international benchmarks in comparable markets;
- Conducted preliminary research on the Gaza water market and the distribution methods used locally;
- Built an early business plan and financial model to test the viability of the social venture.
- Our team has started early stage engagement with possible investors and private sector partners – including the Gaza Power Generation Company (GPGC) and the Consolidated Construction Company (CCC).
Figure 1: Gaza Power Plant and Mayet Al Ahel site planAhel site plan
Figure 2: Detailed technical drawing for Mayet Al Ahel
Figure 3: Snapshot of Gaza Power Plant Site and Ocean Intake Pumping Station
Figure 4: Gaza Power Plant Site
KEY GOVERNMENT STAKEHOLDERS
- Government of Israel / Coordination of Government Operations in the Territories (COGAT): COGAT is responsible for policies and strategic decisions regarding entry of good and people in West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For projects like ours, COGAT is the contact point with the different Israeli governmental entities.
- Government of Israel / The Coordination and Liaison Administration to the Gaza Strip (Gaza CLA): Gaza CLA controls and authorizes the daily traffic of goods and people into and out of Gaza (implementation body). Shurook is in direct contact with Gaza CLA for the entry of our team into and out of Gaza. Shurook will also coordinate with Gaza CLA for the entry of the containerized desalination plant into Gaza.
- Palestinian Water Authority (PWA): sets water laws, issues production licenses, and monitors water quality from producers. We have assessed from the start the appetite of the PWA in Gaza to support this initiative, and we are regularly checking that the project does fit within the overall strategic plan for the water sector.
- Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU): the CMWU acts as sole network distributor, oversees maintenance and reconstruction of the water system. We similarly have an open discussion channel with the CMWU. We have planned in our business plan to push up to 10% of the water produced by Mayt Al Ahel in the CMWU network for free, as a “corporate social responsibility” component: this is to ensure buy-in from the local authorities.
- Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH): sets standards and monitors water quality for commercial drinking water; also, issue authorizations for bottling facilities. The current Palestinian drinking water quality standards are low: we are working with the MoH to define better standards that would still be technically and financially achievable for Mayt Al Ahel.
ENGAGEMENT WITH THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
Note: for the time being, our team travels in and out of Gaza frequently, but is not based there. To increase our engagement with the local community, we have started the process of identifying a young Gazan to join our team and be our contact person on site.
- Water truck operators: we are currently focusing our co-creation work with the local water trucks operators. Given the complexities of importing new trucks into Gaza, and given the need for local ownership, our business model today relies on 3rd party truck owners/drivers – with only a few trucks imported and owned/operated by Mayt Al Ahel. We know that water trucks owners and drivers are organized in a complex, opaque eco-system. We are currently working on i) better understanding this eco-system, ii) identifying a few first truck owners with whom to start the co-creation. We would like some of these truck owners to work with us (co-creation) as we design jointly pricing mechanisms, collaboration mechanisms, training program to maintain water quality, etc... Ultimately, these truck owners would be ambassadors for our project.
- Grocery store owners: in a second step, we plan to work similarly with grocery store owners to select some ambassadors for the project and to better jointly define the exact distribution model for bottles and sachets.
- Awareness campaign (ideally in collaboration with donors/international organizations): Based on conversations with inhabitants, local authorities, and local public figures, we learned that many Gazans still lack knowledge to fully understand the extent to which their water is today contaminated (i.e., not only bacteriological contamination but also high levels of chemical contamination which are harmful in the mid/long run), as well as how water gets contaminated. Many Gazans are today relying on “proxy” methods to guess if water is safe to drink such as taste and color – and these methods are not a good predictor of quality. We want with the campaign to ensure that all Gazans to be able to assess the quality of their drinking water. The awareness campaign will ultimately start in parallel with the execution of Mayet Al Ahel project.
- There are a few scenarios in which we would have to cancel or suspend the project, most notably if security deteriorates (war, insurgent groups). A scenario in which our team is denied entry in Gaza would also force us to pause our project. Fortunately, for the time being, the security situation in the Gaza strip is stable and acceptable. Kindly note that Shurook team’s security inside the Gaza strip is currently managed by the United Nations;
- There is another scenario, in which we would fail to secure the necessary partnerships, the equity or debt for the project. In that case, we would want to start working with 1-3 existing water desalination plants in Gaza. These existing plants have a major issue that they are not fuel efficient (cost impact) and that they tap into the rarefying aquifer (environmental impact). Yet, working with these water desalination plants as well as with a small number of trucks would allow us to 1) pilot packaging in pouches; 2) pilot distribution to grocery stores; 3) pilot truck driver training program to ensure water cleanliness, 4) establish the brand;
- Success in the pilots would allow us to: generate interest from possible equity/debt partner or generate interest from the donor community, which could fund our project on a grant basis;
- So why are we not starting with the pilot? Our understanding is that setting up the pilot will require as much effort/time from the team as setting up the 1st phase of Mayt Al Ahel. The cost of working on the pilot alone isn’t much lower than the pre-developing cost of the larger project (staff/travel costs, legal studies, set-up of SPV, etc.). We also want to focus on the larger project as long as the security situation and regulations allow for it (window of opportunity).