Gaza Diary: Sewage on our doorstep

Manal, a humanitarian aid worker, writes of living in the midst of waste and filth.

    In March 2007, sewage water flooded the village of Um Al-Nasr and killed six Palestinians following the collapse of a sewerage system in the northern Gaza Strip [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Six months ago, a water pumping station - part of a system that serves 60 per cent of the population in Gaza - opened right next to my home. We were pleased to hear of this development as we previously had no other option but to dump our untreated sewage in water wells.

    This had posed an immense health hazard to all members of the community.

    So when we heard that our sewage would now be treated and we would no longer have to dump our waste near our homes, we were very relieved.

    The new station receives up to 40,000 cubic metres of waste water every day, and it should pump 120 cubic metres an hour through each of six water pumps.

    However, only three pumps were installed in the station because the Israeli closure and blockade since June 2007 had prevented the essential parts needed to build the remaining three from entering Gaza.

    Power cuts have also been affecting the efficiency of the station. The emergency generator is not functioning well as it requires maintenance and spare parts are lacking. The limited amount of fuel that is let into Gaza is not enough to run the generator for long hours.

    Toxic waste

    Last summer, the station could not cope with the high volume of sewage, which was ultimately diverted to a nearby grove where the community had planted their olive trees and other crops. If you have seen an olive tree you will know that it is a hardy plant which can bear fruit even in the desert.

    But since the diversion, all of the crops in that grove - including some 100 olive trees - died as a result of the toxic waste that was being pumped into the land.

    The sewage continues to flow there to this day. The crops cultivated in this grove used to provide a source of income and food for the neighbourhood. Now the entire area has become a wasteland.

    This station was supposed to be a blessing for the neighbourhood but it turned out to be a curse, a health hazard for us all.

    Sewage water is filling the streets surrounding the station and flooding nearby houses.

    The stench is unbearable.

    Tenants in ground floor flats were forced to move in with neighbours on higher floors. People are now using sand bags to absorb the sewage water which continues to seep into their houses.

    The amount of children who have been taken ill has increased considerably. Cases of diarrhea are mounting by the day. Even now, children continue to play outside amongst the raw sewage – where else can they go?

    And we are now facing a public health crisis.

    What disgusts me is that this could all have been prevented had the Israelis opened one checkpoint to allow the spare parts and fuel through.

    Sewage in schools

    Children in Gaza

    Children make up more than 50 per cent of the population in Gaza 

    1 in 9 children in Gaza suffer from the effects of malnourishment, including stunted growth

    70 per cent of children under one year old are anaemic

    Sources: World Health Organisation and Unicef

    Children started their new term this week even though there is sewage water in neighbourhood schools. 

    Despite the blockade, we have to continue our daily lives, otherwise we will have nothing left. When the crisis started, some families bought their children gasoline lamps to study by when electricity was cut. Now that fuel is not available and very expensive, children do their homework and study for their exams in candle light.

    To add to the deplorable situation, a friend of mine heard on the news yesterday that the course books for the new term will not reach us for at least another month.

    They have been stuck at the Israeli checkpoints along with spare parts, fuel, food, and medical supplies; people are not let in or out. Gaza has now become a prison for us all.
    Someone described the situation to me the other day: "Gaza has been living and breathing through two checkpoints, Rafah and Erez. The goods have been trickling in uncertainly for the last six months; it's like somebody trapped in a closed room or a lift, not getting enough oxygen, and trying to keep breathing slowly until somebody opens the door and saves them."

    "Breathing slowly, with difficulty, and with unending uncertainty. Who will open that door? How long will we have to wait?"

    I ask myself and I ask the international community - how can children receive a good education in this environment?

    How can they look forward to a better future?

    Oxfam GB

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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