Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The UN Middle East Envoy has issued a warning that urgent measures are needed to prevent a humanitarian and environmental crisis in the Gaza Strip which will impact both Palestinians and Israelis.
Gazans currently receive only a few hours of electricity each day, and a decision by the Palestinian Authority to reduce the amount of electricity purchased for Gaza from Israel will create a downward spiral causing severe civilian hardship, limited hospital services, a lack of drinking water and a negative impact on the food supply. One critical consequence is the cessation of sewage treatment resulting in tons of raw sewage pouring into the Mediterranean Sea.
Since October 2016, a new Hamas government was established with no PLO representation. This situation has created renewed conflict between the two organizations while the PLO, based in Ramallah, is using its control over international funds and tax money to put pressure on the Hamas government, refusing to pay for the electricity supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas government has done little to improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, who suffer from a lack of potable water, electricity and proper sewage disposal. The amount of desalinated water currently available is only a small percent of the 150,000 cubic meters of water needed daily.
Most water in Gaza is coming from the shared coastal aquifer with Israel, which due to over-pumping on both sides has led to sea water seepage, making most water in Gaza undrinkable. The further reductions in the electricity supply due to downed power lines from Egypt, dysfunctional or destroyed infrastructure within Gaza, and a cutback in Israeli-supplied electricity due to the PLO dispute with Hamas will only make life in the Gaza Strip more unbearable.
The recent report of the State Comptroller, “Water Pollution between the State of Israel and Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip,” is highly critical of the government for putting up barriers to internationally funded infrastructure for wastewater treatment, for its neglect and lack of coordination and cooperation between government bodies, and for a lack of a single, coherent policy.
The Israeli government’s negligence not only endangers the health and well-being of Gazans but the health and well-being of the citizens of Israel as well. The State Comptroller’s report points out that twice in 2016 the Ashkelon desalination plant was closed due to sewage pollution originating in Gaza.
Since the current reduction of electricity supply, the quantities of sewage pollution are estimated to have increased by a third. Government foot dragging on supplying an electricity line to a World Bank-funded sewage treatment and recycling plant in northern Gaza directly impacts the health of Israel’s water resources and beaches while increasing the potential for an outbreak of disease in the region.
Israel’s complicity in the reduction of the electricity supply and inaction in finding a solution for Gaza’s chronic power shortages will only serve to pollute its own beaches, endanger its own drinking water and threaten its security. Since the 2006 election in Gaza, the Israeli government has tried unsuccessfully to use various forms of pressure to bring down the Hamas government. Making the lives of Gazans more miserable is not producing the desired results. Perhaps it is time to try something different?
The crisis in Gaza will be a central theme during the second annual Cross-border Environmental Cooperation Conference which will be held in September 2017 at the Arava Institute. The conference and the Track II Environmental Forum afford Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international stakeholders the opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue in a safe environment away from the political pressures of the media and the public spotlight. The goal of the conference and the ongoing meetings held by the forum is to look for win-win solutions to environmental challenges such as those faced in Gaza.
Hopefully, the discussions will lead to quick actions in time to avert some of the suffering faced by the people of Gaza.The writer is executive director of the Arava Institute.