Gaza: shortage of sanitation infrastructure raises health and environmental concerns

In recent years, the longstanding shortage of adequate sanitation infrastructure in the Gaza Strip has resulted in the discharge of around 90 million litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the sea every day, posing serious health and environmental hazards. Development of water and sanitation infrastructure has been severely impacted by the import restrictions imposed by Israel in its nine-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. At present, as many as 23 WASH items such as pumps, drilling equipment and disinfectant chemicals are on the Israeli “dual use” list, meaning that entry of such items to Gaza is severely restricted.

This situation is compounded whenever there is a reduction in the already limited electricity supply, which further impacts the quality of the sewage being released into the sea. Reductions in the electricity supply occurred extensively during April and May 2016 when the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) was shut down or operating minimally due to a shortage of fuel needed to run the plant, triggering up to 20 hours of blackout a day.[i]

The capacity of the Energy Authority in Gaza to purchase fuel to run the plant has been undermined since the beginning of 2016 following a change in the arrangement with the Ramallah-based Ministry of Finance to provide the GPP with a full exemption on fuel taxes. The scope of this tax exemption has been gradually reduced since January, significantly increasing the cost of fuel.

gaza strip

Gaza Strip: Seawater Pollution, June 2016

Seawater contamination and flooding risk

The contamination of seawater poses a serious health risk to those using beaches as recreational sites, particularly during the summer, and to those consuming seafood obtained from the areas most affected. A recent joint assessment by the Environment Quality Authority, the Civil Defence and the Ministry of Health in Gaza indicated that 52 per cent of the Gaza seashore is severely polluted and unsuitable for swimming, including nearly 90 per cent of the shore in Gaza City.

The precarious nature of existing facilities and power shortages also generates a constant threat of sewage flooding in areas adjacent to reservoirs and pumping stations. This threat materialized on 4 May 2016, when one of the retention walls of a sewage lagoon in Gaza City’s treatment plant collapsed following a prolonged power cut, releasing 15,000 cubic meters of raw sewage into a nearby farming area. Some 67 dunums of land planted with fruit trees were damaged as a result, with losses estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture at nearly US$150,000.

In another instance, on 13 November 2013, one of the main wastewater pumping stations in Gaza City (which handled 60 per cent of the city’s sewage) failed due to a lack of both electricity and fuel to operate backup generators. Over 35,000 cubic meters of raw sewage were discharged over a large area in the neighbourhood of Az-Zeitoun, affecting some 3,000 people.

polluted beach in gaza ci

Polluted beach in Gaza city, June 2016

Current and planned wastewater infrastructure

The Gaza Strip currently relies on four wastewater treatment plants that are working beyond their capacity and/or were constructed as temporary installations. The enormous capacity gaps, which are constantly increasing alongside population growth, are expected to be filled by three new treatment plants (in northern Gaza, Gaza City and Khan Yunis). The completion of these plants has been delayed for several years due to a combination of restrictions, including delays in construction permits and the entry of materials, plus shortages in energy capacity.

As a result of the severe electricity shortages, wastewater service providers (including the plants) rely heavily on back-up generators. However, this coping mechanism is constantly challenged by a lack of fuel, overuse, and impediments to the procurement of additional generators and spare parts classified as dual-use items. Part of the fuel needed to run generators is supplied via a multi-donor-funded emergency program coordinated by OCHA.

The effective treatment of wastewater will not only prevent seawater pollution but will also allow for the re-use of treated water for irrigation. This would contribute significantly to the preservation of the groundwater aquifer, which has been depleted to over-extraction, including by the agricultural sector.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

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Video of the Week New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives.

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