Satellite images captured on Thursday and Friday reveal that a fire has gutted a water treatment plant on the outskirts of Gaza City, further worsening the dire shortage of clean water in the region. The images depict an enormous plume of smoke from the fire, hanging over a wide area of the city. The fire burned for at least four hours, completely destroying the plant.
The cause of the fire and the operational status of the plant remain unclear. However, this incident occurred amidst an ongoing water crisis in Gaza, with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) warning that 70% of the population in the Gaza Strip consumes contaminated water. The destruction of critical infrastructure and limited truck access for fuel and water have exacerbated the water emergency.
In response to the situation, a UN expert has urged Israel to allow clean water and fuel for water treatment systems into Gaza, and to cease using water as a weapon of war. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and drinking water, highlighted that Israel’s bombing campaign has targeted wells, water tanks, and other water supply infrastructure. This has severely impacted Gaza, which heavily relies on desalination and external water sources due to limited groundwater.
An upcoming report by Dutch organization PAX reveals that numerous water facilities in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, depriving civilians access to clean water. The ongoing conflict and the resulting infrastructure destruction pose significant health and environmental risks to the people of Gaza.
The burned plant was operated by Abdul Salam Yaseen Company, also known as Eta Water Company. The company’s website and social media pages emphasize their work with humanitarian organizations in Gaza, including installations of water desalination units funded by UNICEF and projects in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The impact of the facility’s destruction on access to clean water remains uncertain.
Satellite images from October 12 showed water trucks lining up at the plant, indicating its operational status before the escalation of conflict. Street battles have occurred near the plant, but it is unclear whether they played a role in the fire. The satellite image from Friday does not display the typical impact crater of an Israeli airstrike, and Israeli ground forces had been operating in the nearby vicinity.
The destruction of the water treatment plant exacerbates the ongoing water crisis in Gaza and further jeopardizes the availability of clean drinking water for the population.