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Mapping a healthier future for thirsty Gaza Strip

Published:24 April 2020

Clockwise from Top Left: 1. A map of location suitability of the CBDP sites in Gaza as assessed by the CQUniversity supported international research project. 2. An example of a CBDP in action in the Gaza Strip. 3. Melbourne-based CQUniversity researcher Dr Ziyad Abunada, from the Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC).

An international study has drawn on CQUniversity’s water science expertise to develop a new method for assessing the safety and suitability of community-scale brackish-water desalination plants (CBDPs) on the Gaza Strip.

The 8km-wide strip of land, wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and Israel, is among the world’s most densely-populated areas, but due to the combination of high demand and an extremely dry climate, the region lacks a reliable and safe water supply.

The aquifer sitting beneath the 43 km length of the country is Gaza’s main water source, but its overuse has prompted a push into alternative sources, including dozens of unregulated CBDPs, while the country awaits construction of a large-scale seawater desalination plant.

Around 68 per cent of these CBDPs have no licence and 40 per cent draw water from unlicensed wells, which typically deliver water that exceeds World Health Organisation limits for chloride and nitrate concentrations.

“This [situation] highlights the pressing need for valid tools that enable the regulator to enforce new legislation and policies for better management and authorisation of newly-proposed CBDPs, as well as enforcing the regulation of the operational patterns of the existing ones,” the international investigation found.

The research team worked hand-in-hand with the Palestinian Water Authority in addressing this problem, developing the region’s first tool for objectively and accurately evaluating the feasibility of establishing new CBDPs and the safety to humans and the environment of existing CBDPs.

The study, which was published this month in the scientific journal Desalination, was conducted by scientists at Istinye University in Turkey; the Australian College of Kuwait in Kuwait; the Palestinian Water Authority in Gaza; and Melbourne-based researcher Dr Ziyad Abunada, from CQUniversity's  Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre.

The study used multi-criteria analysis and geographic information systems (GIS) to develop a tool which factored in a range of water quality indicators, including water temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved solids, along with economic factors such as the daily production, recovery rate, energy consumption, and distance between plants.

The end result revealed that around 65 per cent of the total area of the Gaza Strip is unsuitable to construct and operate CBDPs as per the current practice. The analysis found that around 53 per cent of the existing CBDPs are in unsuitable locations and exhibit adverse impact to the environment.

“The location suitability map can be used as a reference to develop plans that relieve the localised stress on the aquifer in populated areas,” the report states.

“Considering the final location suitability map, the establishment of new CBDPs can be encouraged in low-populated areas which exhibit high suitability for CBDPs and fulfill feasible transportation to highly-populated areas.

“This tool also provides the decision maker the ability to regulate the CBDP characteristics to achieve a certain class of suitability. For example, if CBDP was classified as ‘marginally unsuitable’, the daily production of the CBDP can be regulated such that it attains a marginally suitable condition.”

The research team is now working with the Palestinian Government to assist in implementing its findings, and CQUniversity’s Dr Abunada is investigating opportunities to apply the research methods used in Gaza for evaluating the impact of wastewater reuse in Queensland.