piles of medical waste are scattered in a hospital in the Gaza Strip due to a strike by cleaning workers
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The Gaza Strip is in a grey zone; lost between the political debates of two political parties. While the ministries of Gaza affiliated with the Hamas government have abandoned their responsibilities, the Palestinian government has not yet taken over. Forced into a state of limbo, the humanitarian and environmental catastrophe in Gaza continues to worsen. Created by the ongoing Israeli blockade (in place for 12 consecutive years) and three destructive wars that have shattered a large part of Gaza’s infrastructure and ecology, the situation has been exasperated.
On 21st of February, the Federation of the Gaza Strip Municipalities declared "a state of emergency.” They announced a 50% reduction on all essential services provided to the population, in order to avoid a complete collapse. The Federation was forced to announce its plan in light of the difficult situation stating, "It’s a catastrophic situation and the beginning of the lack of the necessities of life." This announcement came after that the only power plant in the Gaza Strip stopped operating multiple times during the past few periods due to a lack of fuel.
Professor Samir Afifi, Director of the Environmental Studies Unit in the Faculty of Science at the Islamic University in Gaza, said that the upcoming period "does not look good for the different environmental aspects" in the Gaza Strip. He added that the municipalities are unable to provide the minimum services for Gaza’s population as a result of the escalation of the crisis. Professor Afifi pointed out that as this situation continues, waste collection vehicles will have to reduce their services, a consequence of the lack of fuel available. He claims that this will lead to increased accumulation of waste near the containers on the streets, as citizens will not go directly to the main dumps because the distance is too far.
Professor Afifi added that the continuous and extended interruption of electricity (which can be cut for up to 20 hours in a 24 hour period), has adversely affected the provision of electrical or fuel based services in Gaza. He states that this will soon result in wastewater plants pumping their wastewater into the Mediterranean Sea or the Gaza Valley. Both of which are very dangerous, according to Afifi.
Riad Jnina, head of the Palestinian Hydrology Group in Gaza agrees with Afifi, estimating that the effects will impact all environmental and water life in Gaza, especially as a majority of citizens depend on energy (electricity and fuel). Jnina added that last year, the coastal waters’ quality test results showed high rates of pollution, covering 73% of the total length of the beach. The test was carried out by the Environmental Quality Authority after the extension of power outages caused sewage to be discharged in the seashore without treatment.
Jnina says that the political clashes between Ramallah and Gaza come at the expense of peoples’ lives and the environment. He states that it’s necessary to protect the environment from any political debate and combine the efforts of all Palestinians to prevent harm to Gaza and its population. Jnina is demanding the collaboration to solve the problem of power cuts and provide the municipalities with the fuel necessary for them to operate their pumping and wastewater treatment stations.
Khaldoun Abu al Hen, the Director of water and environment Institute at Al-Azhar University, said “The water crisis in the Gaza Strip is worsening. It is reaching dangerous levels. 98% of the groundwater in the aquifer is not drinkable, due to an increased concentration of salts and the deterioration of its chemical properties.”
In his published study, Abu al Hen called on authorities to act immediately and stop this disaster. He urged them to “find solutions that will lead to the recovery of the aquifer and make maximum use of rainwater and treated wastewater."
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh