Israel is flooding Gaza’s tunnel community: scientists assess the dangers

A picture taken with a fisheye lens on January 18, 2018 from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza shows a tunnel that Israel says was dug by an Islamic Jihad group.

Gaza’s underground tunnels will not be all interconnected like a metro or subway system, researchers say.Credit score: Jack Guez/AFP by way of Getty

Israel’s navy has begun injecting “high-flow” seawater into Hamas-built tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip as a part of its try to “neutralize terrorist infrastructures”.

On 30 January, the Israel Protection Forces (IDF) confirmed that the plan to flood tunnels below the Gaza Strip, a method that has been the topic of rumours since December, is being applied at various undisclosed areas. The IDF’s assertion added that the transfer was a “vital engineering and technological breakthrough” and that areas have been chosen in order that “groundwater within the space wouldn’t be compromised”.

Nonetheless, some water researchers are warning that flooding tunnels with seawater might have a devastating impact on Gaza’s already scarce freshwater provides and may destabilize buildings. There are additionally issues that flooding the tunnels might endanger most of the roughly 130 remaining Israeli hostages who have been kidnapped by Hamas in its assaults of seven October 2023. The hostages’ areas stay unknown. However one researcher Nature spoke to says he suspects the impression of the flooding shall be restricted, as a result of Gaza’s aquifer is already contaminated by seawater.

The tunnels are a “spider net” of damp passageways dug in sandy soil, former hostage Yocheved Lifshitz advised the media after she was launched final October. One tunnel is 50 metres deep, in response to Israel’s Ministry of Overseas Affairs, and a few have a number of entrance shafts and are bolstered with concrete and outfitted with energy cables and piping. The tunnels are most likely used to retailer weapons, in addition to for holding hostages captive. They lengthen to nearly each nook of the crowded and devastated 363-square-kilometre Gaza Strip.

Greatest concern

One of many greatest issues is that seawater used to flood the tunnels will contaminate an essential coastal aquifer, which lies between Gaza, Egypt and Israel and provides almost 80% of Gaza’s water.

Mark Zeitoun, a water engineer and director-general of the Geneva Water Hub in Switzerland, says that Gaza’s important supply of consuming water is being contaminated. “Should you put salty water right into a freshwater supply, it’s polluting, it’s contaminating, it’s poisoning,” he says.

There’s a chance that the seawater, as soon as pumped into the tunnels, will merely leak out, Zeitoun provides. “Should you simply attempt filling the tunnels with water, I assume that they’re not sealed properly sufficient to carry any water. The water would drain out and into the aquifer,” he says.

Geographer Ahmed Ra’fats Ghodieh, based mostly at An-Najah Nationwide College in Nablus within the West Financial institution, agrees that the aquifer is more likely to turn into irreparably contaminated with salt water.

“In the event that they flood these tunnels, then the seawater will penetrate the geological strata, in the direction of the aquifer,” says Ghodieh. “Such motion could have extreme penalties on all points of life in Gaza — on agriculture, on soil, on infrastructure.” Ghodieh provides that the seawater might create sinkholes that destabilize the foundations of buildings.

However hydrologist Noam Weisbrod, who’s dean of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Analysis at Israel’s Ben-Gurion College of the Negev, says that these involved that your complete coastal aquifer shall be irreparably contaminated are most likely overestimating the flooding’s results. “I’m unsure that the environmental threat is as excessive as individuals need to imagine,” he says. The impression of flooding would differ relying on the place the affected tunnels are positioned, he provides.

The water degree of Gaza’s coastal aquifer ranges from about 60 metres beneath the floor within the east to just some metres deep close to the shoreline, in response to a 2020 research revealed within the journal Water1. Extra water is being drawn out of the aquifer than could be changed naturally by contemporary water, and in consequence the aquifer is already being infiltrated by seawater.

Weisbrod’s reasoning takes under consideration the truth that, in areas near the coast, the water within the aquifer is already saline. Furthermore, he says, “massive sections of the aquifer water are already contaminated from unregulated sewage methods, fertilizers and extra”.

Weisbrod additionally says that Israel’s plan might have restricted impression. The tunnel community “is just not one massive metro plan like in New York or in London”, he explains. “It’s not one massive factor that’s all linked. So, you’ll use numerous effort and also you’ll flood one thing fairly restricted, ultimately. So perhaps it’s not price it.”

A Sentinal-2 satellite image of Gaza collected on January 10th, 2024.

The water degree of Gaza’s coastal aquifer ranges from about 60 metres beneath the floor within the east to some metres deep close to the shoreline. This satellite tv for pc picture of the Gaza strip was recorded on 10 January 2024.Credit score: maps4media by way of Getty

Gaza’s water disaster

The talk over the tunnels highlights an issue that existed earlier than the flooding began: clear water is scarce in Gaza, no matter the extent to which the aquifer is contaminated by seawater pumping. In 2020, United Nations businesses estimated that 10% of the inhabitants had entry to protected consuming water.

Some water is piped in by Israel and Egypt. A €10-million (US$10.9-million) seawater desalination plant funded by the European Union opened in Gaza in 2017, however it presumably can not operate with out an electrical energy provide. Earlier than the battle, round half of Gaza’s electrical energy got here from Israel, however, in October, the Israeli authorities lower off provides.

Virtually 1.9 million individuals have been displaced by the battle, with many residing in tents or on the streets within the southern Gazan metropolis of Rafah. Following torrential rains in January, many are accumulating consuming water in dishes and buckets, Ghodieh says. Others purchase water from tanker vehicles — low-quality water from the aquifer that has been desalinated by personal corporations — says David Lehrer, director of the Middle for Utilized Environmental Diplomacy on the Arava Institute for Environmental Research within the Arava Valley, Israel.

When the battle ends, Israel and Gaza want to begin planning for a greater water future, Lehrer says. In 2023, by way of a partnership with the Israeli firm Watergen, the Palestinian non-governmental group Damur for Neighborhood Improvement, and the Israeli Civil Administration, the Arava Institute put in 5 solar-powered atmospheric water turbines at municipal health-care centres in Gaza. In keeping with the Arava Institute, these can generate round 900 litres of unpolluted consuming water per day by capturing humidity, condensing and filtering it.

This initiative, and different interim measures comparable to off-grid wastewater therapy, Lehrer says, will “present a glimmer of hope that the state of affairs will ultimately enhance”.

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