A large sewage treatment plant is being constructed in Gaza with funding from the World Bank, but may not become operational due to a dire shortage of required electric power. The Palestinian Authority has approached Israel with a request to increase power supply, but the issue has not been resolved yet.
Over the last few years, a serious environmental and health problem has developed in the Gaza Strip due to the lack of means to treat the sewage generated by over a million inhabitants. The sewage is contaminating ground water, which serves as Gaza’s main drinking supply. Some of it flows into the sea, endangering coastal areas up to Ashkelon.
In order to deal with the problem, the Palestinian Authority set out to establish emergency facilities to treat sewage in northern Gaza. The project received financing from donor states and particularly from the World Bank. However, its operation depends on electricity needed to drive the facility’s pumps, as well as other components in the purification process.
Gaza has suffered from a dire shortage of power since damage from fighting between Israel and Hamas limited its power plant’s capacity. The plant can only supply power to the water treatment facility at the expense of Gaza households. Over the coming years, the power plant is slated to undergo internationally-funded renovations. Sources in Israel say the plant could already increase its output with additional fuel from Israel, which would come through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. However, the Hamas government has chosen not to purchase additional fuel from Israel.
The chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority, Omar Kittaneh, asked the Israel Electric Corporation six months ago to increase its electricity supply to Gaza, in order to operate the sewage treatment plant. He has yet to receive a response.
The environmental group “Friends of the Earth – Middle East,” which includes Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, has called on the Israeli government to assist Palestinians and sell them a limited amount of electricity, until the power plant in Gaza can increase its generating capacity. “The environmental hazards affect both sides, and they cannot be dealt with without collaboration between both parties,” says the head of the group, Gidon Bromberg. “We’re talking about a negligible amount of electricity which will constitute a big step towards short- and long-term protection of the sea and of the area’s drinking water.”
The Electric Corporation says the Palestinian Authority’s request is still being examined. The office of the coordinator of government activities in the territories commented: “The sewage treatment project began in 2008. The World Bank requested an increase in power supply from Israel to Gaza three months ago, saying that it hadn’t taken into account the power requirements of the new facility. As we’ve told the applicants, the present power lines cannot carry any extra electricity, since they are operating at maximal capacity. Constructing an additional power line, if approved, will take several years.”
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