JERUSALEM/GAZA – As temperatures rise after the winter, more people in Israel and the Gaza Strip will head for the seaside but they should beware: Gaza is being forced to dump much more raw sewage into the Mediterranean than before, environmentalists told IRIN.
According to Monther Shoblak, head of the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, before the Israeli-imposed restrictions on fuel imports, the utility was dumping about 20,000 cubic metres of raw sewage into the sea daily. This was due to the outdated treatment plants in the enclave being too small to handle the amount of waste produced by the growing population.
Since Israeli-imposed fuel restrictions began last year, limiting the Gaza power plant’s ability to produce electricity, on average another 40,000 cubic metres of untreated or partially treated waste water has been pumped into the sea daily.
"If I have fuel and or electricity, I can treat. If not, I am obliged to send it to the sea without treatment, but I try to at least partially treat some waste water," Shoblak told IRIN.
"I am optimising the limited fuel I have. I need to use it to pump drinking water and to pump waste water away from the homes," he said.
Environmentalists warned that this was having an adverse affect on Gaza’s coastline, and in Israel they were quick to point out that the sea does not recognise political borders.
"This is a disaster. This is a lot of sewage. It is a health issue, as people swim in the sea and it also affects drinking water as the pollutants could harm the ground water," Gidon Bromberg from Friends of the Earth Middle East in Tel Aviv said.
He said the UN’s Barcelona Convention clearly prohibits the release of raw sewage into the Mediterranean, but added that the Palestinian Authority (PA), as it is not a state, is not a signatory to the convention.
Internal Palestinian politics also have a role here. While in the past the Environmental Quality Authority, a PA agency, would work to inform the public about possible dangers from pollution, currently, with the schism between the Fatah and Hamas factions, the agency’s activities in Gaza have been more or less suspended.
Yousef Abu Safiyeh, who was the head of the agency in Gaza but was dismissed recently by the Hamas government, said the pollution had affected Gaza’s fishermen: "The fish just run away from the area," he said.
Gaza fishermen, who in any case catch only 10 percent of what they used to in previous decades, also face Israeli restrictions on access to fishing areas.
Hamas spokespersons were unreachable for comment.