Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Sewage is literally pouring into the streets"

These articles call attention to another crisis unfolding in Gaza, the massive amount of raw sewage that is contaminating the drinking water and making people sick. The situation is desperately unstable – the sewage treatment facilities are old and in bad repair, and designed to serve a population of less than 400,000 (Gaza now has 1.5 million people). Whatever sewage does not get pumped into the Mediterranean (itself a terrible solution) is held in large, open-air lakes by dykes that have burst in the past and are liable to break again. And they leak: "sewage is literally pouring into the streets," says the head of CARE International, quoted in the second piece below.

Construction of a new plant and repair to the old is hampered by the occupation, and particularly the fuel shortage – materials and contractors simply cannot get through.

The first article, from the BBC, refers to the leaking sewage as a 'tsumami'. While this analogy highlights the severity of the problem, it is deeply misleading to compare this to a natural disaster: it is a human-made disaster. It is not a tragedy but rather a crime, the predictable and culpable result of intentional policies undertaken by Israel and the international community.

This is expressed quite well in a statement by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community."

Judith Norman


Gaza`s sewage `tsunami`
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor
April 22, 2008

From Occupation Magazine:

A five-month-old baby lay on a blanket in the shade of a hut made of metal sheets.

Thin tree branches, with leaves and twigs intact, were laced around the ends of the hut to insulate it against the hot wind that blows into the sand dunes, rolling away to the border fence and on to Israel.

The baby`s mother sat with her legs tucked under her, hiding most of her face behind her black head-scarf. It flapped slightly in the breeze, and she used it to wipe her tears and muffle her sobs.

The woman`s name is Aziza Abu Otayek. She wept because she was remembering the death of another baby son, one morning in March last year, just after the older children had gone to school.

Until that day their home was just downhill from a deep pond of sewage, pumped into a depression in the dunes and held there by earth walls because the water authorities in the Gaza Strip had nowhere else to put it.

`Wall of human waste`

On 27 March 2007, the walls gave way.

Aziza heard someone shouting, telling her to run away. She got out of the hut, then went back in because she had forgotten her head covering.

The wall of raw human waste slammed into them. It knocked her down and tore the baby from her arms.

He drowned. They found his body against the wall of the mosque a hundred metres away. He was nine months old.

His grandmother was also drowned.

Aziza worried about her new baby until he was born at the end of last year, because when she was hit by the flood she swallowed some of the sewage and she thought it might have harmed him.

They named the new baby Mohammed, after his dead brother.

While she talked, he gurgled happily, untroubled by the flies that buzzed around his eyes and lips.

Aziza has an older son, a four-year-old called Ramadan. His father said he asks about his dead brother, and when he is cross he says he prefers the first Mohammed to the second one.

But Ramadan seems a cheery little soul, though he has nightmares about the flood.

He looks around the lakes of almost raw sewage that still lie near their home and asks his parents if another wave is going to come.

One might. The pond that killed Ramadan`s brother and grandmother is not the only one near their home. The others are much bigger and full of sewage.

Growing population

A Palestinian water engineer called Sadi Ali gave me a tour. He explained that the sewage lakes have grown so big because Gaza`s growing population - 1.4 million, half of whom are under 16 - has overwhelmed what were anyway inadequate facilities for dealing with waste water.

Even though, to his great regret, they pump tens of thousands of litres of untreated sewage into the Mediterranean every day, they have to do something with the rest.

Sadi said that the lakes are 11m (36ft) higher than the surrounding land, and only the earth walls around them hold the muck in.

In this single spot alone - and he said other parts of Gaza were as bad - the lakes were so big that if the dykes burst a tsunami of sewage 6m (20ft) or 7m (23ft) high would swamp an area inhabited by 10,000 people.

Conflict with Israel

Sadi Ali worries that a stray bomb or missile could break a dyke.

There is a £40m ($80m) plan, funded by international donors, for a proper sewage treatment system for north Gaza.

Sadi Ali is trying to build it. But it is well behind schedule.

The problem is the same one that dominates every part of life here - the conflict with Israel.

Gaza has been battered by years of fighting

Restrictions imposed by the Israelis - which they say are vital to protect their own people - have slowed down, and sometimes completely stopped the import of raw materials for construction like cement and piping.

Contractors have not been able to move freely. The latest problem is the lack of fuel.

Try building a sewage system in a war.

When we set up the television camera near the sewage lakes a little barefoot boy, barely more than a toddler, came up and asked if we were going to attack the Israeli positions.

He might have been asking if it was going to rain.

For him, and several hundred thousand other Gazan children, explosions are part of the soundtrack of their lives. The boy must have assumed the camera and its tripod looked like a weapon.

After that we worked faster, in case the Israelis thought the same thing.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 19 April, 2008 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


March 29 / 30, 2008
A New Crisis in the Making
The Great Lake of Gaza

In a place just a few miles from sandy beaches and soaring sky-scrapers, white stone villas and sky-blue swimming pools, it seems the epitome of irony and injustice that over 1.5 million people would be subjected to drinking sewage-contaminated water. When there is such a fine line bordering wealth and poverty, privilege and need, how unsettling to realize that just a stones throw away, mothers and fathers must nourish their families with poison. As if the occupier could not find one more creative way to torment his victim.

The greatest outrage is that such a reality is the decided policy of the Israeli government. It is decried by the most prominent human rights and humanitarian groups throughout the world, and yet it is increasingly enhanced by Israel and shamelessly backed and justified by the US. It is indisputable that the calamity of contaminated water in the Gaza Strip is a resolute policy of the Israeli government.

The problem of sewage management in Gaza is not a new issue, and in fact dates back to the direct Israeli occupation of Gaza in 1967. At that time, Israel built the sewage treatment facilities which are still in operation today, built then to serve a population of 380,000 people, a number that has grown to 1.5 million.

The depleted source of clean drinking water and the ever-growing sewage crisis in Gaza is leading to areas of overflow, the largest of them called "the great lake" which occupies some 30 hectares of land and holds approximately 2-3 million cubic meters of waste water.

With archaic facilities to serve a group that has nearly tripled in number, and with the lack of basic necessities such as fuel to power the pumps necessary to keep the facilities running, the result is the spillage of toxic sewage into the ground and ground water and even directly into the sea.

The United Nations publication, IRIN recently interviewed Rebhi al-Sheikh, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) in Gaza, who stated that at present, 75 percent of Gaza's drinking water is polluted.

In January 2008, UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur, John Dugard travelled to Palestine and assessed the situation, one that he described as "catastrophic" under Israel-imposed restrictions.

I recently spoke with Dr. Suma Baroud about the range of problems and health issues that result from the existence of run-off areas such as the great lake. She explained, "As a medical practitioner working in the field of primary health care in the Khan Younis region for the last 10 years, I have learned from my anecdotal observation that there are a myriad of overwhelming problems and ailments inflicting the health of Gaza residents, especially children as a result of the ever-growing lakes of sewage like that of the 'great lake' or the 'Majari' as we call it.

Many children are treated in our health centers for illnesses induced by infestations of small organisms such as amoeba. These ailments progress and lead to internal diseases which affect the small and large intestine and hamper or impede their functions, such as abdominal colic, diarrhea and constipation. Other complications include anemia, failure to thrive, and mental disturbances. More, we have seen growing numbers of children who suffer from conditions such as insomnia, low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Add to this a big number of patients who are treated in our clinics in summer for skin infections resulting from insects bites. There is an overwhelming problem with such insects which thrive in the conditions under which we suffer, with intense heat and standing sewage and water.

There is tremendous pressure on the Ministry of Health due to over-consumption of medications that fight these diseases and their subsequent complications."

An uncountable number of rights groups have brought the plight of Gaza to the fore in recent weeks, including the International Committee of the Red Cross who recently told IRIN that, "The environmental situation in Gaza is bad and getting worse."

30,000-50,000 cubic metres of partially treated waste water and 20,000 cubic metres of raw sewage end up in rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. Some 10,000-30,000 cubic metres of partially treated sewage end up in the ground, in some cases reaching the aquifer, polluting Gaza's already poor drinking water supply.

The International Crisis Group recently pressed Israel, Egypt, the PA and the Hamas Government to do everything possible to make necessary commodities available such as fuel, which is essential to the containing of Gaza's huge sewage problem.

In an article recently published in the California based publication, the Coastal Post, US Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader bashed Israel for its multi-faceted execution of institutionalized violence against the people of Gaza, and called the US to account for its out-right complicity with Israel's inhuman and illegal practices: "Israel's siege has also caused extensive loss of life in Gaza from crumbling health care facilities, electricity cut-offs, malnutrition and contaminated drinking water from broken public water systems. The victims here are mostly children and civilian adults who expire unnoticed by the West. The suffering of Gaza civilians is ignored by 98% of the US Congress, which gives billions of taxpayer dollars to Israel annually."

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community."

In early March of this year, a report drafted by eight British human rights groups and humanitarian groups condemned Israel's policies in a "scathing" report which declared that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was the "worst since 1967".

"As we speak, sewage is literally pouring into the streets," said Geoffrey Dennis, head of CARE International.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said Israel must protect its citizens, "but as the occupying power in Gaza it also has a legal duty to ensure that Gazans have access to food, clean water, electricity and medical care."

She added: "Punishing the entire Gazan population by denying them these basic human rights is utterly indefensible. The current situation is man-made and must be reversed."

The 16-page report -- sponsored by Amnesty, along with CARE International UK, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire -- calls on the British government to exert greater pressure on Israel and to reverse its policy on not negotiating with Gaza's Hamas rulers."

As Amnesty's Kate Allen pressed, the urgency of this issue cannot be emphasized enough. Spillage so great that its masses are designated "the great lake", such abuse and mistreatment of a population regarded as "protected persons" is nothing less than pure outrage. The international community must take action immediately to ensure the protection Gaza deserves, for as Allen declared, this abhorrent action is undeniably man-made and must be reversed immediately.

Suzanne Baroud is an American writer and editor of several books. She is the managing editor of

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

No comments: