(Reuters) - A tiny wedge of land jammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean sea, the Gaza Strip is heading inexorably into a water crisis that the United Nations says could make the Palestinian enclave unliveable in just a few years.
With 90-95 percent of the territory's only aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater, neighborhood desalination facilities and their public taps are a lifesaver for some of Gaza's 1.6 million residents.
But these small-scale projects provide water for only about 20 percent of the population, forcing many more residents in the impoverished Gaza Strip to buy bottled water at a premium.
"There is a crisis. There is a serious deficit in the water resources in Gaza and there is a serious deterioration in the water quality," said Rebhi El Sheikh, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA).
The Gaza Strip, governed by the Islamist group Hamas and in a permanent state of tension with Israel, is not the only place in the Middle East facing water woes.
A NASA study of satellite data released this year showed that between 2003 and 2009 the region lost 144 cubic km of stored freshwater - equivalent to the amount of water held in the Dead Sea - making an already bad situation much worse.
But the situation in Gaza is particularly acute, with the United Nations warning that its sole aquifer might be unusable by 2016, with the damage potentially irreversible by 2020. more