Nearly seven months after Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has begun removing some 600,000MT of rubble containing asbestos and other hazardous material.
Israel’s 23-day operation destroyed 4,000 housing units and damaged 40,000 homes. UNDP officer Amran el-Kharouby in Gaza said rubble was being removed from 2,533 private homes, in addition to 23 public buildings.
“UNDP rubble removal teams were trained how to safely remove, store and crush hazardous material, primarily asbestos,” said El-Kharouby, adding that UNDP had provided contractors with safety equipment.
Teams also met residents, some living in tented communities near their destroyed homes, to explain the removal process and warning that hazardous material might be uncovered. In many cases residents are evacuated before removal teams go in.
The UN Mine Action Team is also working to remove unexploded ordnance in Gaza.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), about 10 percent of the rubble in Rafah and Khan Younis is asbestos material, as well as a small amount in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City. UNEP conducted an assessment of Gaza in May and is expected to release its results in August.
About 68 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are refugees, living in eight major camps. Most refugee camp homes are built from concrete and asbestos.
“Asbestos releases particles into the air and chronic lung conditions in the respiratory tract may result,” World Health Organization (WHO) officer Mahmoud Daher in Gaza told IRIN.
In addition to private homes, hundreds of public buildings and roads were damaged or destroyed during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, including 700 factories.
“[Destroyed] factories that were using lead or other heavy metals, like battery factories, could present a health hazard to the population,” said Daher.
Some factory or home owners have denied access to rubble removal teams to what is left of their properties because they said they had not received compensation from the Gaza authorities or UN.
The UNDP rubble removal project will continue until January.
If adequate funding is available, the 380,000MT of remaining rubble from former Israeli settlements that was collected but never crushed will be removed as part of the project.