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GAZA CITY, Jul 2 (IPS) – Gaza is being forced to pump 77 tonnes of untreated or partially treated sewage out to sea daily due to the Israeli blockade of the coastal territory. The fear is that some of this is creeping back into drinking water.
“The health of Gaza’s 1.5 million people is at risk,” Mahmoud Daher, from the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) told IPS following a report released by WHO after it carried out a number of tests on Gaza’s contaminated water.
On the ground Israel’s closure has translated into a lack of fuel, electricity and spare parts needed to operate wastewater and sewerage treatment plants. Consequently Gaza’s water and sanitation systems are near complete collapse as the power required to run treatment and desalination plants, pump water to homes, and pump sewage away from populated areas is only available on a very limited basis.
Following Hamas’ takeover in Gaza last year, after it won legislative elections in 2006, Israel designated the densely populated strip of 360 square kilometres hostile territory and sealed off the borders, enforcing an embargo which is supported by the international community.
Since then the Jewish state has allowed only a trickle of humanitarian goods into Gaza, and only after intense international pressure and intervention. Besides drastically reducing fuel and electricity supplies, Israel has also barred import of most vital technical parts, which humanitarian organisations argue are necessary if Gaza’s basic infrastructure is to operate.
In order to assess the degree of sewage contamination WHO took seawater samples from 13 risky areas in the five governorates of the Gaza Strip. Two microbiological tests were carried out to examine the presence of human and animal faeces.
The results revealed that three areas in Gaza and one area in the Rafah governorate (30.8 percent) are polluted with human faeces (Faecal Coliform) and animal faeces (Faecal Streptococcus), and three areas in Gaza city (23.1 percent) are polluted with animal faeces.
The danger is that this contaminated sea water is leaking into Gaza’s underground water aqueduct following a two-year drought. The drought has meant that the 160 million cubic metres of water extracted every year from Gaza’s underground water supply is not being replenished as the strip received only an annual average of 85 million cubic metres of rain over the last couple of years.