Gaza Situation Growing Dire
Israel’s Ministry of Health has instructed the National Water company, Mekorot, to close two piping stations near the border with the Gaza Strip over fears of water pollution stemming from Gaza’s sewage dumping. In the last two weeks, water purification facilities in Gaza have collapsed and they have not been repaired because of the ongoing electricity crisis.
Palestinians in the northern neighborhoods of Gaza — Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia – have begun pumping sewage into Nahal Hanun, which crosses Israel and empties in the sea. That stream flooded, which experts said, created an environmental hazard, which began to pollute groundwater from the coastal aquifer. Mekorot pumps drinking water from that aquifer, and closed the pumping stations.
When it comes to the West Bank, the problem has existed for years. About 60 million cubic meters of untreated sewage is flowing into Israel from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, polluting streams in both Israel and the West Bank. A new study for the first time provided figures on exactly how much untreated sewage is moving across the Green Line.
“It is polluting wadis (riverbeds) and streams, contaminating ground water and potentially leading to a health hazard,” Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli co-director of EcoPeace Middle East told The Media Line. “This could lead to an outbreak of disease. If this continues for many more years, it could affect the viability of the ground water itself.”
There has also been a sharp increase in the amount of sewage coming from the densely populated Gaza Strip over the past week, as the electricity crisis in Gaza has intensified. The wastewater facility in Gaza, run by the Islamist Hamas movement, has shut down completely, because it has no electricity to run.
Israeli officials said that at first they were able to manage the flow of sewage with vacuum pumps, but they are no longer proving effective. Two Israeli beaches were forced to close last week.
In a recent report, Israel’s comptroller blamed both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority for the potentially harmful situation.
“The environment and the natural resources do not recognize any political borders of any kind,” Retired Judge Yosef Shapira wrote in a recent report. “Water pollution is the most serious environmental hazard between the State of Israel and Judea and Samaria, due to the fact that it is endangering the most important natural source of water in the region – the mountain aquifer.”
“The wastewater collection and treatment system, as well as the utilization of treated sewage in Judea and Samaria, is lagging behind the situation in the State of Israel,” he added.
Palestinian officials say they are aware of the problem, but say that Israel is partly to blame for the situation. There are currently 13 wastewater treatment plants in the West Bank, including several large ones in Nablus, El-Bireh and Jericho. Several others, including one in Hebron are due to be finished by 2020.
“We have some hot spots that we need approval from Israeli side like in Tulkarem,” Adel Yasin, Director of Wastewater Department at the Palestinian Water Authority told The Media Line. “Our main goal is to get approval for those projects on the border like Tulkarem. We proposed a protocol three years ago to manage the relations between the two sides (with Israel) but they didn’t accept our proposal.”
Israel treats and recycles about 90 percent of its wastewater, making it a world leader in the field. Yasin says that the Palestinian Authority collects sewage from about one-third of Palestinian households and treats 75 percnet of that.
In the Hebron area, the situation is the worst, with industrial wastewater that contains toxic metals like chrome. An Israeli study found that 24 of the 28 measurements taken in the stream found chrome present. There were also other pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous, which kill fish and other wildlife. The high concentration of pollutants in the stream also pose a risk to the groundwater in the mountain aquifer.