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On World Environment Day, Gaza lacks a safe, clean, and sustainable environment

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5 June 2023 |Reference 41/2023

World Environment Day is celebrated every year on June 5 to highlight the significance of environmental protection and to raise awareness of environmental issues. The theme of this year is “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

In the Gaza Strip, this occasion comes at a time when the environment continues to be adversely affected by Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime—including through recurrent large-scale military operations, 16 years of illegal closure and blockade, and de-development policies. These policies and practices adversely impact local capacity to protect the environment and ultimately hinder Palestinians’ right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

With an estimated population of more than 2,200,000 Palestinians, the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world. This population produces nearly 2,000 tons of waste per day. However, solid waste disposal is one of the most serious environmental problems in the Gaza Strip. This is mainly due to the fact that, except for medical waste managed by the Ministry of Health, local municipalities do not have sufficient landfills to safely dispose of waste—particularly plastic items—to protect people and the environment.

As a result, tons of solid waste are accumulated in the open spaces of the North Gaza District, producing a dangerous environmental situation in the district. Notably, there is only one landfill in the entire Gaza Strip that meets sanitary and environmental standards, located in Khan Younis City. According to the manager of North Gaza’s Joint Service Council for Solid Waste Management, to handle the huge amount of solid waste, Gaza needs another large dumpsite, smaller landfills in each district, and more garbage collection vehicles.

Another serious environmental issue in Gaza is that of water, a natural resource that is mostly controlled by Israeli authorities. More than 97% of the water pumped from Gaza’s coastal aquifer does not meet the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO). Due to population growth and water pollution in the Gaza Strip, the per capita share of freshwater is only 21.3 liters per day, compared to the 100 liters recommended by the WHO as the minimum standard. Recurrent Israeli military operations and the direct targeting of Gaza’s vital infrastructure have also caused damage to water grids and affected water supply networks, further exacerbating the already existing water crisis.

There is also a grave problem concerning wastewater treatment, as Israel's obstruction of the entry of construction materials has effectively prevented the construction of central wastewater treatment plants. This, along with the continuing electricity deficit, has forced local municipalities to pump untreated sewage into the sea. A May 2023 microbiological test conducted by the Gaza Water and Environmental Quality Authority reveals that around 30-40% of the seawater along the Gaza coast is polluted and unsafe to swim in.

On World Environment Day, Al Mezan calls on the international community to take immediate action to address the underlying causes of Gaza's environmental crisis, including demanding that Israel immediately lift the closure and blockade on Gaza and end the occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). In the meanwhile, at the very least, Israel must fulfill its duties as an occupying power, including taking appropriate measures to prevent significant harm to the environment of the OPT that prejudices the health and well-being of the occupied Palestinian population. On this day, Al Mezan also calls on humanitarian and international organizations and donors 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.