Mikhael Mirilashvili Could be Gaza’s Saviour
The Israel-Palestine conflict, now in its sixth or seventh decade by some accounts, and probably having been in fomentation for decades longer, has shown no signs of being solved in recent years. Despite a general easing of armed conflict, tensions between the two sides have remained, and the latest round of peace talks, which was begun in 2013, was cancelled the very next year.
In this situation, it is the citizens of the Palestinian territories who are suffering the most, with a crippling military blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces, along with the Egyptian military, making it extremely difficult for even essential supplies to make it through to the territory. However, there may be some hope on the horizon for the beleaguered parcel of land, and it comes in the unlikely form of a Georgian-Israeli billionaire.
Mikhael Mirilshvili is a real estate tycoon, based out of Russia and Israel. His business ventures are mainly in real estate, but he also had a stake in the Russian social media platform vk.com, before selling the stake in April 2013. As of 2013, Mirilshvili was valued at $3 billion, making him one of Russia’s richest people. While his current empire is based on real estate, he initially came into the limelight through the Konti group, which was one of the largest gambling groups in the erstwhile USSR, with a real money casino and hundreds of slot machines. Now, he has stepped in to provide a solution to the Gaza Strip’s water crisis.
Due to the military blockade by Israel and Egypt, there has been a chronic power shortage in the Gaza Strip, with frequent power outages damaging infrastructure, and thus contributing to water contamination in the territory, as sewage cannot be treated properly. The UN estimates that over 100,000 cubic metres of untreated or poorly treated sewage are released into the Mediterranean every day from Gaza. Further, most of the Gaza Strip relies on an underground aquifer for its drinking water, but due to over-extraction, seawater has now seeped into those sources, making up to 97% of the water undrinkable. Thus, the Strip faces a chronic water shortage. However, Mirilashvili has a potential solution, in the form of water generators which create drinking water out of thin air.
His company, Watergen, is producing these generators, which is a large, blue cube, roughly the size of a vending machine. The first of these machines was delivered to a hospital in Gaza City and began producing clean, cold drinking water within a day. This is extremely important as one of the hospital wards is a pediatric cancer ward, and the children undergoing cancer treatment there need clean food and water as their immune systems have been compromised. The Watergen generator works on electricity but has the ability to run with solar panels, to circumvent the electricity problems in Gaza. It works as a dehumidifier, sucking in moisture from the air to convert it into drinking water. The model sent to the Gaza hospital can produce over 800 liters of drinking water per day, and Mirilshvili has said that the largest models can provide drinking water for thousands of people. Watergen is also working on a consumer model for people to install and use in their homes.