Solid Waste Liquids… a Dangerous Fertilizer Used by many Farmers in Gaza with Scary Health Outcomes
solid waste collection and the use of its toxic liquid in agriculture
By Samar Shaheen
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
Horizons went to landfill site on the border in east Gaza. Where farmer, who will be referred to as A.K was hurriedly filling garbage. The garbage was for use as fertilizer. A.K. has hidden his identity because he does not want to jeopardize selling his crops. If people know that he is using waste as fertilizer, they will not buy his produce.
Another farmer Abu Rafat admits to using garbage as fertilizer for his crops. He stopped the practice when his son was diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors informed him that the high toxicity of his crops could have significantly contributed to the onset of his son’s condition. When asked why he used this technique for fertilizing his crops he answered” This type of fertilizer helps my crops grow and and produce before their season.”
Horizons went to the popular Firas market in Gaza. There the public was asked, “Would you buy produce out of season?”
Everyone we spoke to answered 'No”. They explained that they were aware of the fact that garbage was being used as fertilizer. This type of fertilizer yields out of season and large crops. They tried to avoid this produce. Produce grown with waste fertilizer and chemicals is known to damage their health. Jumaa’ Sayed told Horizons about his experience with produce grown in such conditions. He described the produce as being appealing when bought it but when he took it home the inside was not worthy for consumption. He said he learned his lesson and he will never buy produce cultivated this way again. Abdalah Fathi keeps with adage “First fruits prolongs ages" and will only buy produce that is in season.
The ministry of agriculture has been warning farmers and consumers of the dangers of using fertilizer made from the landfills. They have sent out officials to farmers in the Dair Al-Balah area. They have been reported to be using the fertilizer made from ground garbage. The warnings to farmers and consumers educate them of the dangerous chemicals like cadmium and lead and microbes that exist in garbage.The ministry of agriculture has warned of another danger the sale of fertilizer made from ground garbage to unknowing consumers and farmers. The ministry has informed farmers of the restrictions and punishments for using this technique on their farms.
Dr. Ahmad Hiles stated that the pollution and toxic levels in Gaza are at some of the highest levels in the world as a result of lack of waste management and the remnants of the Gaza wars and Israeli incursions. The use of chemical weapons has compounded the already dire environmental situation. The management of garbage and landfills is the biggest challenge facing the environment. It is not specific to Gaza but to all countries in the developing world. Organic garbage materials are only 70% -at the most- biodegradable; leaving 30% -at least- that is toxic and will not decompose. Gaza produces 1600-1700 tons of solid waste a day. Each ton of solid waste produces 200-300 litters of toxic runoff. The landfills in Gaza are a combination of waste making management or recycling impossible. The landfills are a combination of waste from garages, households, chemical factories and slaughterhouses and everything is in the landfills. Dr. Hiles continued to say that they have discovered that farmers are using the runoff from the landfills to irrigate their crops. This method exposes the farmer and consumer to high levels of toxic and concentrated contaminants. The high concentration of phosphorous and nitrogen in the runoff yields more crops. The contaminants are carcinogenic and are the causes of chronic disease. They are especially hazardous to those with low immune systems like young children and the elderly. The Ministry of health has declared the toxic runoff and evaporation is contributing to the rise in cancer cases in the Gaza strip. There has been as significant rise in cases reported and treated throughout Gaza. Especially since the use of chemical weapons and the increase in pollution in Gaza.
Dr. Hiles said that the landfills are in border areas with Israel and are difficult for the Palestinian Authority to patrol because of security issues. The evaporation and run off from the landfills of the toxic substances will negatively affect the surrounding areas like the Negev desert and the rest of Palestine. The runoff, evaporation and decomposing cycle is a five-year cycle. The proliferating amount of waste is accumulating and complicating the issue of management and decomposition. The lack of supervision and the presence of a black market has allowed for the use of carcinogenic chemicals to be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt through the tunnels. The seepage from the landfills is also polluting the water table and supplies. He continued with a description of the how waste management works. Landfills are areas that equipped to handle and store waste. They have a protective barrier to keep runoff from penetrating the soil and water. Gaza does not have the capacity to manage their waste disposal. They are using alternative methods to contain the issue. The most important is to dry up the run off. The methods and materials needed are next to impossible to get under the siege.
Dr. Hiles has prescribed preventative measures for the future to avoid the problem of the proliferating waste is to educate consumers and citizens to buy and use products that are eco-friendly. There needs to be an effort to teach the importance of dividing and separating types of waste to better dispose of it. Most importantly, the infrastructure that is required to handle these issues developed to handle the ever-growing need. That will not happen with the constant siege and demolition of Gaza
Translated by: Kefah Abukhdeir