GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - With Gaza's supply of drinking water expected to dry up by 2020, a Palestinian engineer is pioneering a machine to make seawater potable for residents of the coastal territory.
Diaa Abu Assi, a 29-year-old father-of-two, has spent much of his spare time in the past 18 months developing the system, which he hopes will be instrumental in saving lives in the besieged enclave.
"In five years, there will be no drinkable water in Gaza," Abu Assi says. "Water shortages are a real threat to life in Gaza. The only solution is to filter water from the Mediterranean."
Funded by Gaza's Islamic University -- which is linked with the enclave's rulers Hamas -- in co-operation with an Omani research organisation, the project uses nanotechnology to reduce the salinity in seawater to a drinkable level.
It pumps water at high speed through large iron pipes and filters made of nano-material to extract the saline. The water is then retreated with minerals that were removed during the desalination process.
The filter contains microscopic pores which are small enough to block the chlorine and sodium ions in seawater while allowing through the water molecules.
"The idea is to save Gaza from the disaster that awaits it in the next five years by using the one resource we do have -- seawater," Abu Assi says.
Gaza, home to 1.8 million Palestinians, consumes 180 million cubic metres of water per year, half of which is used in agriculture and industry.
Gaza could be 'uninhabitable'
The United Nations estimates that Gaza's population will grow by almost another 500,000 people in the next five years, which will push demand to an expected 260 million cubic metres of water annually.
Given Gaza's current water resources, the territory would become "uninhabitable," according to Robert Turner, director of operations in Gaza for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Gaza now depends on groundwater from its coastal aquifer for supplies, but the enclave's water authority says 97 per cent of its resources are polluted due to over-extraction and sewage contamination.
Abu Assi's machine can treat some 1,000 litres a day -- a drop in the ocean for now, but he and his partner, fellow engineer Ala al-Hindi, say they will not stop there.
Hindi says they are seeking $300 million (S$400 million) to build a water treatment plant that has a much greater capacity.