Wastewater, both partially and untreated, continues to be pumped into the sea off Gaza’s coast, polluting the sea and underground reservoir. The water conditions in Gaza continue to drastically decline, in particular in the last two years when increasing amounts of raw sewage have been pumped into the sea, raising serious concerns for the health of residents. With lack of electricity one of the main factors for failing sanitation services, Gaza needs a reliable and lasting solution to the 11-year electricity crisis, otherwise development projects will yield only brief and inefficient solutions.
In a report issued in April 2018 by the Environment Quality Authority – Palestine (EQA), 75 percent of Gaza’s 40-kilometer coastline is affected by pollution. Alarmed by the unsafe conditions, the EQA has warned residents against swimming outside of three specific areas. Residents in Gaza typically flock to the beaches to de-stress and escape the summer heat.
The severe, chronic, and growing shortage of electricity tops the list of instigators for the environmental deterioration in Gaza. The daily blackouts of at least 16 hours translate into paralysis of basic services, such as sewage treatment and sanitation systems. The fuel needed to run the pumps has been critically lacking since April 2017, which means wastewater is transferred directly from houses to the Mediterranean, without being treated. Worse yet, the wastewater sinks into the ground and pollutes the groundwater. The population in Gaza find it increasingly difficult to access potable water, especially families whose economic situation does not allow them to purchase water.
Access to the basic sanitation services has been further hampered by economic deterioration in Gaza. The rate of unemployment rose to 49.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018 and that of poverty to 53 percent. Worse yet, the Palestinian Authority continues to cut the salaries of public sector employees and force thousands into early retirement—punitive measures that coincide with shrinking international aid to Gaza. The generators that people run during the blackouts are expensive and unaffordable to increasing numbers. Furthermore, the local municipal councils, affected by dwindling resources, decreased their work on rodent control, thus allowing for unsafe conditions to fester, especially for residents living near swamps.
Ineffective steps by local and international actors compound not only environmental pollution but also the degradation of economic, social and cultural rights. Al Mezan stresses that serious and prompt steps should be taken to alleviate the breakdown of conditions in Gaza, which impact the health of the population, and also the field of business that are reliant on electricity and the internet.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to pressure Israel to comply with its obligations as the Occupying Power and as a duty bearer, and to pressure the Israeli authorities to immediately end its closure and collective punishment practices.
It must be recalled that the catastrophic living conditions in Gaza are the result of politics, and they must be addressed at their root causes – through political collaboration and by upholding the international rule of law.
While calling on Palestinian authorities to mend the internal political divide, Al Mezan reiterates that the life of ordinary Palestinian citizens is in the end the responsibility of the Occupying Power and therefore Israel must ensure that the population have access to sufficient services, including electricity.