June 5 each year marks World Environment Day, the United Nations (UN) day that encourages worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment. The theme for this year is “Only One Earth”, focusing on living sustainably in harmony with nature by bringing transformative changes—through policies and our choices—towards cleaner and greener lifestyles. In Palestine, this occasion comes at a time when the adverse impact of Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime on the environment is becoming more and more prominent across. This holds particularly true for the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s 55 years of occupation and 15 years of closure and blockade have severely affected the environment and disrupted people's lives.
In particular, the closure restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on the Gaza Strip have hindered the ability to create additional landfills, particularly in view of the pressing need to absorb the large daily quantities of waste in a proper and environmentally friendly manner. The effects of the Israeli closure have also weakened the ability of service providers, such as municipalities, to play their role in preserving the environment and its components.
As a consequence, the shortage of safe drinking water in the Gaza Strip continues to worsen. According to the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), around 96.2% of total water extracted from Gaza’s aquifer does not meet the water quality standards of the World Health Organization (WHO). Water salinity has remarkably increased, reaching more than 1,500 mg/L, far in excess of WHO standards (250 mg/L). Furthermore, the concentration of nitrates is also increasing and ranges between 50 to 100 mg/l, exceeding the WHO standards (50 mg/L), which indicates that there is sewage leakage into the aquifer.
Similarly, the seawater pollution crisis in the Gaza Strip is continuing, as untreated sewage is being pumped into the sea due to power shortages. According to the Water and Environment Quality Authority in Gaza, nearly 115 thousand cubic meters of Gaza’s untreated sewage are being pumped into the sea every day. The microbiology test carried out by the Water and Environment Quality Authority in May 2022 revealed that 35% of seawater along Gaza’s coast is polluted and unsafe for swimming.
More recently, Israeli military attacks during the May 2021 offensive have further deteriorated the environmental crisis in the Gaza Strip, with Israeli forces targeting sewage pumps, water networks and wells, electricity networks, municipalities’ machinery and equipment, and farmlands with high explosive missiles. On 15 May 2021, Israeli forces targeted the Khudair Group’s warehouse—an object clearly having civilian nature and Gaza’s largest in the industry. As a consequence, a fire broke out on the premises of the warehouse, burning all its contents. This incident provoked serious health risks and repercussions on the environment, including the emission of large quantities of gases and toxic, hazardous chemical materials.
On World Environment Day, Al Mezan calls on the international community to immediately take action to end Israel’s closure and blockade on Gaza, protect civilians and civilian objects, and pressure Israel to fulfill its obligations to ensure the improvement of power services and allow the entry of materials needed for maintaining WASH facilities. Al Mezan also calls on the international community and the donor institutions to allocate funds to support the development of local projects aimed at protecting the environment, especially those related to WASH infrastructure, and to continue supporting the reconstruction process to improve living conditions in Gaza.