SHATI REFUGEE CAMP / AP
Each day, millions of gallons of raw sewage pour into the Gaza Strip’s Mediterranean beachfront, spewing out of a metal pipe and turning miles of once-scenic coastline into a stagnant dead zone.
The sewage has damaged Gaza’s limited fresh water supplies, decimated fishing zones, and after years of neglect, is now floating northward and affecting Israel as well, where a nearby desalination plant was forced to shut down, apparently due to pollution.
“It’s certain that Gaza Strip’s beaches are completely polluted and unsuitable for swimming and entertainment, especially in the summer,” said Ahmed Yaqoubi of the Palestinian Water Authority. Environmentalists and international aid organizations say that if the problem isn’t quickly addressed, it could spell even more trouble on both sides of the border.
But while Israel has a clear interest in Gazans repairing their water infrastructure, that would likely require it to ease restrictions on the import of building materials â€” which it fears the territory’s Hamas rulers could divert for military purposes â€” and increase the amount of electricity it sells to Gaza.
Poor sewage treatment in Gaza is the result of a rapidly expanding population, an infrastructure damaged during wars with Israel and a chronic shortage of electricity to run the wastewater plants that still function. In 2007, a sewage reservoir overflowed in a village in northern Gaza, drowning five people.
An Israeli blockade that has restricted imports, coupled with Palestinian infighting and mismanagement by the Hamas-run government, has compounded the problems for the enclave’s 1.8 million residents. Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas seized power
Nasser Abu Saif said he was once happy to live in a beachfront apartment in Shati refugee camp. Now, he avoids swimming in the fetid water near his house. “There are mosquitoes in the summer and even in the winter,” he said. “It makes our lives unpleasant.”