Collapsing Environmental State of Gaza Poses Threat to Israel's National Security, Report Warns

Sewage dumping and air pollution could severely effect desalination plants and smog levels, experts say, warning none of Gaza's groundwater will be fit for human use by next year

FILE Photo: Children cross through sewage water in Mighraqa neighborhood on the outskirts of Gaza City, April 13, 2016.
Khalil Hamra / AP

The collapsing water, sewage and electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip pose material danger to Israel’s groundwater, seawater, beaches and desalination plants, a report on the environmental implications of the state of Gaza for Israel warns.

Burning garbage, plus the launching of incendiary balloons floated from Gaza as attacks on Israel, are already creating a problem of air pollution in Israeli territory, the report notes.

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The report was prepared by experts at Ben-Gurion University and Tel Aviv University for the environmental organization EcoPeace Middle East – a trilateral environmental NGO promoting cooperation between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. It was presented Monday at the annual Conference of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians and Schools of Public Health, which was also sponsored by the Israeli veterinary association.

Demand in Gaza runs at about 450 megawatts to date, but capacity is usually capped at 120 to 140 mw. One upshot is that sewage plants aren’t operational and thus 70 percent of Gaza’s untreated sewage goes straight into the sea. Gaza is also over utilizing its aquifers and consequently, most of the underground water is already contaminated. By next year zero percent of the Gazan groundwater will be fit for human use, according to standards of the World Health Organization.

Based among other things on the findings of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, the report authors say sewage dumping already caused Israel’s desalination plant in Ashkelon to shut down three years ago. Dumping in Gaza can increase bacterial concentrations as far north as Ashdod. In Gaza itself, half of the beaches are unswimmable because of the germs in the water.

Sewage contamination also endangers an important source of groundwater for Israel southeast of Ashkelon. Israel diverts some Palestinian sewage to a treatment plant in Sderot. Leakage, especially during winter flooding, threatens to contaminate groundwater. Moreover, when a stream becomes contaminated, it is all the more inviting for mosquitoes, which are a vector of disease – including West Nile Fever.

FILE Photo: Palestinian Hussein Al-Najjar, 14-years-old, fills a donkey-pulled cart with recyclable waste and other items he collected at a garbage dump in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 16, 2015.
AFP

Yet particle pollution in the air remains another mounting environmental problem in the last year. The report compares smog levels measured last summer, when Palestinians in Gaza were floating incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli fields, to the summer of 2017. The authors found an increase in the concentrations of particles that can enter the lungs and cause morbidity. In 2017, the concentration of small particles maxed out at 37.25 micrograms per square meter of air. One year later the concentration reached a maximum of 51.

The particle pollution is caused by incendiary balloons and kites which set trees and fields aflame, adding to garbage burning in the Strip. Adding to the pollution, locals burn the garbage to reduce its volume when trash in these pirate waste dumps piles too high.

Israel, until now, had been able to mitigate the effect of the environmental pollution from Gaza on Israel itself, by monitoring the quality of the seawater and closing down the Ashdod desalination plant if necessary. It could also treat Gazan sewage itself. But the more the population in Gaza grows, and with it, the quantity of sewage, the greater the danger that sustained damage will be caused to the beaches and the groundwater in Israel.

The report about the environmental state of affairs has implications for Israel’s national security, says Gideon Bromberg, the Israeli Director of EcoPeace Middle East. “Israel’s people, first and foremost the residents of the south, are exposed as a result of the situation in Gaza to a multitude of threats, not only the ones we already knew about. Without urgent, vigorous action, plagues and infections will break out that could cost a great many lives, both in Israel and in Gaza, and no fence or Iron Dome can thwart them.” If something isn’t done, the upshot could be political horror in the form of hundreds of thousands of Gazans fleeing for their lives toward Israel – for fear of catching disease, Bromberg said: “The responsibility for action isn’t only on Israel’s shoulders, but the need to act is clear and immediate.”