Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Gaza's Poisoned Water
By Stephen Lendman
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 19, 2010
It explained how Israel exploits Palestinian water resources,
using most of it, forcing them to find ways to get by. Water, of course,
is essential to life, rights to it natural and usufructuary. Belonging to
everyone as part of the commons, it must be used, not owned or abused, an
essential truth Israel corrupts.
On August 5, the Palestinian
Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) published the latest in its "Narratives
Under Siege" series, titled "There's Something in the Water: The Poisoning
of Life in the Gaza Strip."
"THIS BEACH IS POLLUTED" signs dot
Gaza City beaches, posing serious health hazards because of daily raw
sewage dumped into the Mediterranean Sea through 16 discharge sites along
the coast. Yet thousands fill them despite the dangers, including
children, taking advantage of one of their few sources of respite -
available, convenient, and free, but not safe.
For Gazans, the sea
is part of their lives - to fish, gather with family, swim, and for
children, play in the sun on hot days, a joy this writer recalls growing
up on America's Atlantic coast. Summers were always the best time. The
"Without the sea there is no Gaza," explains
Abdel Haleem Abu Samra, Public Relations Officer of the Palestinian Centre
for Human Rights' Khan Younis Branch. Being unsafe is especially
unsettling - its state in some form since 1991, but especially under
siege, prohibiting equipment, construction materials, and spare parts to
build new wastewater treatment facilities and repair existing ones.
In addition, conditions are exacerbated by an acute fuel and electricity
shortage, vital to run waste treatment cycles properly. As a result, about
20,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are dumped daily into the sea, according
to Monther Shoblak, Director General of the Coastal Municipality Water
Utility, and in some areas it's up to four times that much - a shocking,
completely avoidable situation.
Gaza's once pristine shores are
polluted, the grave implications clear - "the Gaza Strip is, quite
literally, being poisoned," affecting about 90% of its coastal aquifer,
the essential source for residents. Yet it's hazardous and undrinkable,
given its high nitrate and chloride levels - six to seven times higher
than World Health Organization's (WHO) safe levels.
As director of
Gaza's water, Monther's job is challenging, forcing him to improvise to
make due, managing wastewater created by 1.5 million trapped people, 80%
of them in refugee camps, living cramped in the world's largest open-air
prison, out of sight and mind to those outside it, except activists,
friends, and supporters who care. Plagued also by inadequate
infrastructure, creating hazards unimaginable in the West.
compares Gaza's facilities to an old car still in use despite lack of
spare parts needed for upkeep. Eventually falling into disrepair, it
pollutes heavily, relevant for Gaza where even adulterated gasoline is the
normal input for cars.
Compounding things further, Gaza's
population is growing rapidly (about 3.6% annually), producing greater
amounts of waste, current facilities only able to handle about 32,000
cubic meters a day, about half its needed capacity. As a result, the
overage gets dumped, entirely or mostly untreated, much of it washing back
onshore, polluting beaches, creating hazardous swimming conditions, and
poisoning drinking water.
In northern Gaza's Beit Lahia,
deterioration is especially severe, one of its three facilities receiving
over 25,000 cubic meters daily, double its operating capacity. Worse
still, the facility has no access to the sea, so wastewater flows directly
into the surrounding area, creating a 450 dunum sewage lake, untenable
contamination, exacerbated in March 2007 when its embankment broke,
killing five people by toxic flooding.
High nitrate levels are
especially hazardous, Monther calling them "a silent killer"- colorless,
odorless and tasteless, its continued intake reducing oxygen to vital
tissues like the brain. Children and infants are greatly at risk, their
developing organs unable to cope. Severe damage and at times death the
The longer-term consequences are worrisome, Sara Roy
"Nowhere else in the world has such a large number of
people been exposed to such high levels of nitrates for such a long period
of time. There is no precedent, and no studies to help us understand what
happens to people over the course of years of nitrate poisoning."
The harm is undeniable because the coastal aquifer along much of the Strip
provides about 90% of its water. For Gazans like everyone, it's life,
nature's gift, and essential. There's no substitute, making it vital to
conserve and keep safe, for drinking and Gaza's agriculture, especially
its citrus farms, deservedly famous, now threatened by toxic and dangerous
Only 10% of Gaza's aquifer is safe, and without
changes, Monther fears it'll all be poisoned, making it hazardous for any
purpose. A 2009 United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report warned
that today's damage "could take centuries to reverse." Under siege, Gazans
have no choice but to cope, pitting them against nature, never a fair
fight when it's hostile.
A Final Comment
A July 22
Electronic Intifada report headlined "Gaza's strawberries spoil under
"The northern Gaza Strip area of Beit Lahiya
is famous for its agriculture," an ideal environment for growing fruit
under normal conditions, absent under siege. Besides polluted water,
farmers like Abdulfattah al-Khateeb worry about his strawberries reaching
West Bank, Israeli and European markets, their destination for over 20
Since 2007, however, closure cut him off from the rest of
the world, leaving "tons of his strawberries....rot(ting) while waiting in
vain at the Israeli border." As a result, he fears his livelihood is being
Before 1967, Gaza's citrus was called "yellow gold," renown
for its quality. Under Israeli control, many orange groves were bulldozed,
farmers turning instead to flowers and strawberries. They adapted,
producing "the best strawberries in the world," according to Abdulfattah,
former head of Beit Lahiya's Strawberry Farmers Society.
and others are forced to abandon their crops because of export
restrictions. "The effects have been disastrous," farmers reporting a 40%
drop in income, losing millions of dollars.
"The Israelis tell us
how and what to plant, what to use to plant it, and where the plants we
use must come from, (and) when we do what (they) want, they just create
another problem," he explains. Half of Gaza's strawberry farmers have
given up. The others are threatened, especially by Cast Lead's destruction
of nearly half of Gaza's farmland. Relentlessly, Israel is destroying a
way of life in Gaza, a little reported story vital to highlight and
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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This article follows an August 6 one discussing Palestinians Denied
Access to Water, found through the following link: