The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip have no other refuge than the Mediterranean coast to escape the summer heat and enjoy some leisure time amid the electricity crisis. However, even in their escape, the sewage problem chases them. There are three sewage drains that dump their water in the Mediterranean, causing massive pollution along the coast.
These sewage drains have been dumping thousands of liters of sewage water into the sea for years. The first drain is located in the Shalehat resort, considered the best in Gaza, while the second faces the basin of Gaza’s main port. The third drain faces the Beach refugee camp.
Fayez al-Safadi said that he took his family to the beach to relax, adding, “We usually go to the beach to escape the intense heat waves back home, but we are never completely happy. The beaches are polluted with sewage.” He clarified that the sewage drains that dump their water in Gaza’s sea constitute a big problem and cause dangerous environmental pollution that threatens the lives of citizens, especially children, relaxing on the beach.
After demanding that the Gaza municipality find a quick solution for this dangerous environmental crisis, Safadi added, “Because of this pollution, we decided not to swim. Some meters away, there is the Shalehat resort pump that turns the blue color of the sea into a dark tone.”
Ferial Mohammad, her annoyance clear, said, “The problems and crises follow people wherever they go. Even recreational places that people visit to escape the heat and the electricity crisis in summer have not been spared.” She added that there are small stretches of Gaza’s sea that are considered pure and clean of the sewage pollution, “but these stretches are not enough for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, which is considered among the most dense places in the world.”
The Hamas government in Gaza blamed the municipalities for the seawater pollution and demanded that the operators halt the work of these pumps, channel the sewage to gathering pools and central stations for treatment and use it for agricultural purposes.
Abdel Rahim Abu al-Komboz, general director of health and environment in the Gaza municipality, stated that the reasons behind the environmental damage inflicted on his municipality and the disposal of sewage in the sea of Gaza are related to the constant electricity cuts that prevent the government from solving the issue.
The Gaza Strip is suffering from a huge electricity crisis since Israeli fighter jets shelled and destroyed the only power station in June 2006. The incident was triggered after three parties combatting Israel headed by Hamas abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from a military location near the Karem Abu Salem commercial crossing in the east of Rafah, south of Gaza.
The electricity cut affects 30% of the Strip when all lines and generators are functional. In case of disruption, this percentage increases.
Komboz told Al-Monitor, “The continuous electricity cut has led the municipality to use generators that need around 300 liters of diesel per month. Given the fuel crisis in Gaza, diesel is hard to find.”
Additionally, eight wastewater treatment plants in Gaza are in need of fuel when the electricity is cut off. If fuel is not provided, parts of the city become immersed in wastewater.
Komboz affirmed that some international donors have stopped sending financial aid to the municipality, which has aggravated the problem. The halt of support is related to political reasons and aims to put pressure on Hamas. Gaza's share of European grants provided to the Palestinian territories to support municipal services and the establishment of development projects was affected after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. The United States and the European Union demanded that the movement accept the terms of the international Middle East Quartet, including recognizing Israel's right to exist. Hamas refused, leading to most of the donor countries cutting off support.
Youssef Ibrahim, president of the Environmental Quality Authority, noted that the Israeli blockade and the electricity crisis, in addition to the shortage of fuel needed to operate the plants, have impacted the environment, leading the wastewater to be dumped into the sea.
Even though previous crises have contributed to this environmental misfortune, Ibrahim said in an interview with Al-Monitor that “solving these problems does not mean that pumping wastewater into the sea will stop for good.” He said that the density of Gaza's population has rendered the amounts of wastewater coming from houses and institutions greater than the absorption capacity of the plants.
Ibrahim added, “A 20-year-old plant cannot process the huge amount of wastewater coming from the houses these days.”
He also noted that these plants are not effective due to the Israeli blockade, which has made it impossible to renovate the depleted plants, explaining, “The plants are unable to treat the amounts of wastewater and are now overworked.”
He added, “Even if there is no electricity cut, the municipalities will keep on pumping wastewater into the sea for the aforementioned reasons. The only difference is that the availability of electricity will make it possible to process a large volume of wastewater, rendering it viable for agricultural use.”
Ibrahim explained that the Israeli occupation is primarily responsible for the pollution in the Gaza sea, after which come the municipalities and people, given the high population density.
He noted that Israel impeded Gaza's acquisition of the equipment needed for the development and enhancement of treatment plants. Additionally, municipalities are dealing with significant budget deficits and therefore cannot develop the sewage networks or treatment plants.
Ibrahim noted that the municipalities are in need of large budgets in order to build one wastewater-treatment plant, which costs around $40 to $70 million.
Rasha Abou Jalal is a writer and freelance journalist from Gaza specializing in the political news, humanitarian and social issues linked to current events.