Raw sewage seeps out of Gaza as electricity supplies dwindle

The Israel Electric Company, which typically transfers about 120 megawatts of electricity daily to Gaza, confirmed that it would continue reducing the supply gradually over the next few days.

Palestinians walk on a road during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians walk on a road during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With minimal electricity available to treat Gaza’s wastewater, continued power cuts could cause irreparable damage not only to the Strip but also to Israel, as raw sewage runs rampant across maritime borders.
“We’re starting to play Russian roulette,” Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Pursuant to a request from the Palestinian Authority, which is aiming to pressure Hamas to cede control over the isolated territory, Israel began decreasing the amount of electricity it supplies to Gaza on Monday by 8 MW. The Israel Electric Corporation, which typically transfers about 120 MW of electricity daily to Gaza, confirmed that it would continue reducing the supply gradually over the next few days.
Following Monday’s initial supply cut, Israel reduced the provision by another 8 MW on Tuesday, according to the Hamas-controlled Energy Authority in Gaza.
Because Gaza’s sole power plant stopped operating in late April, the Strip relies almost entirely on the electricity imported from Israel – providing about four hours of power daily via 10 lines. Last week, Israel approved a PA request to lower the amount of electricity it supplies Gaza by some 42 MW.
With little electricity to begin with, the sewage situation in Gaza was already dire before the latest power cuts, according to both local officials and regional environmentalists.
Even before this week’s reductions, about 120,000 cu.m. (120 million liters) of raw sewage was flowing into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis, Muhammad Thabet, spokesman for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, told the Post.
“This will have very dangerous consequences on the environment and on the underground water and the neighboring beaches,” Thabet said.
With even less power to treat wastewater, the risks posed by sewage will only increase, negatively impacting the local fishing industry as well, he explained.
Gaza power crisis
“It will go to the Israeli beaches, maybe to Tel Aviv, because the current in the sea is toward the Israeli beaches,” he warned.
Like Thabet, Bromberg, whose organization has been working to bring attention to the Gazan water crisis for years, said that the sewage problem has been long in the making.
Citing a recent State Comptroller’s Report that blasted the government’s handling of cross-border water contamination, Bromberg stressed that Israel has never assessed the risks posed to its own water security and public health by the situation in Gaza.
As less electricity flows into Gaza and more untreated sewage seeps in its channels, the risk of an outbreak of epidemic or pandemic disease is also increasing, he said.
“And that pandemic disease will not stop at the border,” Bromberg continued. “It will flow with the sewage. It will flow with the groundwater, it can be carried with people as they cross the border.”
Should such a disease break out, he explained, tens of thousands of Gazan people could begin making their way toward the border fences.
“They will be moving not with rockets and stones,” Bromberg said. “They’ll be carrying empty buckets because they will not have faith in the ability to drink any of the water in Gaza.”
Because the government has never properly assessed the situation, decisions are being made blindly with respect to public health risks, irrespective of the most recent step taken to cut power supplies, Bromberg explained.
“That’s why I think Russian roulette is an apt description of this level of decision-making,” he said.
Meanwhile, despite a recent agreement that Israel would sell an additional 33m. cu.m. of water to the PA – including a 10m. cu.m. allocation to Gaza – the parties are still haggling over the price of that water, Bromberg said.
“There’s a lack of perspective on what are the broader water security implications,” he added.
As far as the sewage flow is concerned, Bromberg also specifically criticized the Health Ministry for failing to take adequate measures like monitoring Israel’s beaches north of Ashkelon on a daily basis.
“We should be testing those waters every single day,” he said. “As more and more sewage is flowing, we need to know what’s coming our way.”
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.