Problems in the Gaza Strip are becoming increasingly acute and complex day by day, making it a challenging place for human habitation. Alongside economic issues and a suffocating blockade, the Gaza Strip is grappling with severe environmental realities. These environmental issues impact the residents’ rights to health, limiting their access to a clean, healthy, and safe environment.
One of the principal issues faced by the population of the besieged territory is solid waste management, a concern raised by various human rights institutions. The problem is especially pressing given the absence of solutions that align with the increasing population and the residents’ needs, as well as the lack of concrete efforts from official authorities to identify safe waste landfill sites.
Impact of Solid Waste on Health and Environment in Gaza
According to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the amount of solid waste produced in the area is 2,000 tons per day. The significant issue here is the insufficient availability of dumps to handle this waste safely in a way that protects citizens from its hazards, especially concerning plastic materials. Gaza City’s main landfill, Johr Al-Dik, spans nearly 220 dunums. Moreover, there is an accumulation of solid waste in three large slums in the northern part of the besieged Strip.
Engineer Nizar Al-Wahidi, an expert in the environmental and agricultural field, shared his insights on the matter of solid waste, “Solid waste globally represents a considerable resource. In Gaza, we produce about 2000 tons per day. This quantity is significantly underutilized for several reasons. The most critical being the lack of modern scientifically equipped landfills, primarily due to Israeli occupation measures. Another reason is our limited financial resources, which prevent us from building modern facilities suitable for the unique conditions of the Gaza Strip, where agricultural, residential, and industrial areas are intertwined.”
Continuing on this theme, Al-Wahidi emphasized the desperate need for modern landfills in the Gaza Strip, which currently has only three dumps that fall short of the desired standards. He highlighted the health risks posed by these landfills, noting, “These landfills create significant problems due to the proliferation of rodents, stray dogs, and birds of prey, which compound the pollution caused by the landfills by transporting this waste into cities, thereby leading to various diseases.”
Moreover, the accumulation of large quantities of waste relatively close to populated areas, coupled with the burning of waste and the blowback of smoke to populated regions, causes severe health issues.
In addition to solid waste management issues, Gazans grapple with contaminated water. Over 97% of the water in the besieged Gaza Strip does not meet World Health Organization standards, as stated by the Water and Environmental Quality Authority in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s Control over Palestinian Water Sources Deepens Crisis
As per the report from the Palestinian Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Palestinian per capita water consumption falls below the minimum WHO standard of 100 liters per day. This deficiency is due to Israeli restrictions and continued Israeli control over more than 85% of Palestinian water sources.
The report further states that the daily per capita consumption rate in the Gaza Strip is 82.7 liters. Considering the high level of water pollution in the Gaza Strip, the per capita share of internationally compliant water drops to only 21.3 liters per day when accounting for usable water quantities.
A significant health crisis stems from the fact that 25% of the Gaza Strip lacks access to sewage services. Furthermore, over 120 thousand cubic meters of partially treated or untreated wastewater are discharged into the sea daily, contaminating nearly 30-40% of the beach’s water and rendering swimming a risky activity.
Al-Wahidi on the Impact of Wastewater Discharge in Gaza’s Sea
On this health crisis, Al-Wahidi commented, “More than 90%, and some reports suggest even more than 97% of Gaza’s wells, are unfit for irrigation and certainly inappropriate for human use. Wastewater is discharged into seawater, creating an environmental disaster in the sea – the only outlet for the people of Gaza – at a rate of at least 120,000 cubic meters per day. As a result, we face an environmental catastrophe and a water loss of an estimated 44 million to 50 million cubic meters annually.”
These wasted water quantities could have been repurposed for agricultural irrigation if modern facilities with advanced treatment systems were available to produce usable water.
Sewage treatment in the Gaza Strip is also facing significant challenges due to incomplete central sewage treatment plants and occupation authorities’ continued obstruction to import necessary equipment. This situation is exacerbated by Israel’s previous bombings of wastewater and power systems.
Al-Wahidi provided further insight into the water treatment situation, saying, “The treatment plants in Gaza are outdated. Currently, we only have two treatment plants in the northern region and one in the central area, but the south still requires treatment facilities. We also need irrigation systems to handle the volumes of water produced to the required standards for agricultural irrigation. However, we return to the first and foremost crisis of occupation restrictions and conditions, as well as the lack of funding and adequate support for the rehabilitation and development of sewage plants.”
Based on the information presented, it is clear that the Gaza Strip urgently needs actions from all international and domestic parties to find and implement solutions to these environmental problems. Only through these efforts can we protect the Gaza Strip from health disasters and prevent potentially devastating outcomes.