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Gaza water supplies on brink of collapse: UN.

Summary: The Gaza Strip's underground water supplies are "in danger of collapse" following years of overuse and a devastating assault Israel waged on the impoverished territory at the turn of

The Gaza Strip's underground water supplies are "in danger of collapse" following years of overuse and a devastating assault Israel waged on the impoverished territory at the turn of the year, the United Nations said Monday.

"The underground water supplies, upon which 1.5 million Palestinians depend for agriculture and drinking water, are in danger of collapse," the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said in a statement accompanying a new report. "Unless the trend is reversed now, damage could take centuries to reverse. Since the aquifer is a continuum with Israel and Egypt, such action must be coordinated with these countries," the report said.

It said the water supplies were being affected by salt water intrusion, as well as by pollution from sewage and agricultural run-off, and that pollution levels were so bad that Gaza infants were now at risk from nitrate poisoning.

Israel and Egypt have sealed off the impoverished territory to all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas movement seized control in June 2007, severely hampering the upkeep of basic infrastructure.

"Blue baby syndrome"

UNEP's report said Israel's 22-day assault of the strip had generated some 600,000 tons of demolition debris, and that an estimated 17 percent of cultivated land, including greenhouses and orchards, had been severely affected.

The U.N. report estimates that restoring the aquifer beneath Gaza could require $1.5 billion (a billion euros) over 20 years, including the construction of desalination plants to take pressure off underground sources.

The report said over extraction was causing seawater to seep into the freshwater aquifer, sending salinity levels across the territory above the 250 milligrams per liter considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The U.N. researchers also found high levels of nitrates that exceeded WHO guidelines of 50 milligrams per liter, with one site rising to 331.

High nitrate concentrations in water have been linked to a form of anemia known as "blue baby syndrome," the report said.

The report also expressed concern about the state of Gaza's landfills, saying it found large amounts of exposed hazardous medical waste "in part as a result of an increased level of casualties" during the war.

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Date:Sep 13, 2009
Words:399
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