Union for the Mediterranean’s Water Desalination Project

By Shilpa Muralidaran, George Washington University

The Union for the Mediterranean is an intergovernmental institution which provides a political and institutional framework for Euro- Mediterranean relations, and seeks to increase the potential for regional integration and cohesion between member countries.  The organization was established at the Paris Summit of Heads of State and Government on July 13, 2008.  The General Secretariat was officially installed in Barcelona on March 4, 2010.  The UfM has six focus areas which include De-pollution of the Mediterranean, Maritime and Land Highways, Civil Protection, Alternative Energies: Mediterranean Solar Plan, Higher Education and Research, and the Mediterranean Business Initiative.[1] Membership within the UfM includes twenty seven member countries of the European Union and sixteen Mediterranean partners.[2]

On June 22, 2011, the Union for the Mediterranean declared its first project. This project consists of the construction of a 100 million cubic meter desalination facility and distribution system in the Gaza Strip in order to address the major water deficit for a population of 1.6 million.  This project was partly based on a recommendation from the UfM’s Water Expert Group, and aims to deliver concrete humanitarian and health benefits. Additionally, the project will spur job creation and future economic and sustainable development in the highly populated region.[3]

In the Gaza Strip, 1.6 million Palestinian people rely almost exclusively on the trans- boundary Coastal Aquifer for obtaining fresh water.  While the sustainable yield of the portion of the aquifer under the Gaza Strip is around 45-55 million cubic meters, in 2010, the people living in the Gaza Strip utilized an excess of 170 million cubic meters from the aquifer.  Because of this over-pumping of fresh water and the resulting Mediterranean seawater intrusion into the aquifer creates an increase in groundwater salinity thus, damaging the trans- boundary aquifer.[4]

Figure 1: Distribution of chloride and boron concentrations in the southern Mediterranean coastal aquifer and Gaza Strip; from Mazen Banna, Catherine Guerrot, and et al.; “Sources of Salinity and Boron in the Gaza Strip: Natural Contaminant Flow in the Southern Mediterranean Coastal Aquifer,”22 Jan 2005, Web.

Salinization is a phenomenon that results from the over-exploitation of scarce water resources.  The Gaza Strip aquifer is the most severe case of salinization as it is the only source of water supply for over a million people.  The Coastal Plain aquifer is located along the Mediterranean coast of Israel and the Gaza Strip, stretches into Egypt and Israel, and is composed of pliocene- pleistocene calcareous sandstone, sands, sandy loam, and clays.  The salinity in the eastern part of the Coastal Plain aquifer comes from the discharge of saline groundwater from the adjacent Avedat aquifer.  As the groundwater flows to the central part of the aquifer, a dramatic change in its composition occurs.  The geochemical data “suggest that dissolution of pedogenic carbonate and gypsum minerals in the overlying leossial sequence generate the calcium rich solution that triggered base exchange reactions and produced sodium and boron rich groundwater.”  The data also shows that most of the salinization process in the Gaza Strip is derived from the lateral flow of the sodium rich saline groundwater, which is superimposed with seawater intrusion and anthropogenic nitrate pollution.  Figure 1-A shows the distribution of chloride concentrations in the southern Mediterranean coastal aquifer and the Gaza Strip.  The arrows indicate the upper limits of drinking water regulations in Israel and the European Union.  Figure 1-B shows the distribution of boron concentrations in the southern Mediterranean aquifer and the Gaza Strip.  The arrows in Figure 1-B indicate the upper limits of drinking water regulations in Israel and the European Union, in addition to the recommended regulations by the World Health Organization (WHO).  As demonstrated by the two figures, the levels of both chloride and boron are higher than safety regulations in the majority of the region.[5]

The Union for the Mediterranean believes that a large- scale desalination plant is an absolute requirement to address the water deficit in the Gaza Strip.  As aforementioned, the desalination plant  will create more jobs in the construction and subsequent operation of the plant.  Additionally, the project will contribute to the political stability of the region through the removal of the water scarcity issue from the many other issues facing the Gaza Strip.  In order to ensure that the project will be successful, the Palestinian Water Authority has already carried out a proper assessment; a feasibility study that was completed in 2003 in addition to a comparative study on possible solutions for the Gaza water crisis, which strongly indicates that desalination is the most attainable option.  The UfM Secretariat believes that the project will receive the necessary funding from a number of donors within and outside the framework of the UfM, and will also work with the Palestinian Authority to raise the $420 million required for the implementation of the project.[6] However, only with future advancements in technology and subsequent interventions to maintain improvements will the Union for the Mediterranean’s efforts be preserved.



[1] Union for the Mediterranean. UfM. 2010. Web. <http://www.ufmsecretariat.org/en/>.

[2] Mediterranean partners include Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Mauritania, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey

[3] Secretariat for the Union of the Mediterranean. “The “Desalination Facility for the Gaza Strip” Project.” Brief Information. Union for the Mediterranean, n.d. Web. <DesalinationProjectGaza>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Banna, Mazen, Catherine Guerrot, and et al. “Sources of Salinity and Boron in the Gaza Strip: Natural Contaminant Flow in the Southern Mediterranean Coastal Aquifer.” . Water Resources Research, 22 Jan 2005. Web. <PDF>.

[6] Secretariat for the Union of the Mediterranean.