Gaza boy swimmer death puts spotlight on pollution crisis

Updated on Aug 26, 2017 11:41 AM IST
Pollution in Gaza is not a new phenomena -- a decade of a crippling Israeli blockade, coupled with three devastating wars with the Jewish state since 2008, have left infrastructure falling apart.
This file photo taken on July 03, 2017 shows Palestinian boys swimming in the sea next to donkeys in Gaza City in sewage-polluted waters.(AFP)
This file photo taken on July 03, 2017 shows Palestinian boys swimming in the sea next to donkeys in Gaza City in sewage-polluted waters.(AFP)
Agence France-Presse, Gaza City, Palestinian Territories | ByAgence France-Presse

The death of a little boy after swimming in polluted seawater has put the spotlight on Gaza’s pollution crisis and the human impact of desperate electricity shortages in the Palestinian enclave.

Mohammed al-Sayis, five, died late last month a few days after swimming in the sewage-polluted waters, with his brothers also hospitalised, his family and health ministry said.

Dozens of others have been treated after swimming along the strip’s filthy Mediterranean coastline in the past two months, a ministry spokesman in Gaza said.

Pollution in Gaza is not a new phenomena -- a decade of a crippling Israeli blockade, coupled with three devastating wars with the Jewish state since 2008, have left infrastructure falling apart.

But the worsening spat between the two leading Palestinian political blocs has exacerbated an already grim situation for the two million residents of the impoverished and densely-populated Gaza Strip.

A picture taken on July 3, 2017 shows cattle gathered under a bridge next to sewage-polluted waters on the beach of Gaza City. (AFP)
A picture taken on July 3, 2017 shows cattle gathered under a bridge next to sewage-polluted waters on the beach of Gaza City. (AFP)

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has sought to squeeze the Islamist group Hamas which controls Gaza.

In April, it reduced the amount of electricity they buy from Israel for Gaza, where the enclave’s sole power plant is barely operational.

The electricity shortage is so severe that all of Gaza’s sewage treatment facilities have ground to a halt in recent months, according to Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights.

As a result, sewage that was previously cleaned and pumped further out into the sea is being released along the coast untreated.

At least 100,000 cubic metres (3.5 million cubic feet) of sewage is being pumped into the sea each day, according to the United Nations, which says more than two-thirds of the coastline is polluted.

The UN has previously estimated the whole of Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020, but a recent report has said that catastrophe is likely to come sooner.

Ahmed Halas, an official in the environment agency, told AFP all of Gaza’s beaches are polluted to varying degrees and the health ministry advises against swimming altogether.

It has also spread beyond Gaza -- last month a beach in southern Israel was temporarily closed after sewage from Gaza washed upstream.

‘Our only outlet’

While the electricity crisis has caused the pollution that has ruined the beaches, it has also driven Gazans to take to the seaside as an escape.

The enclave’s borders with Israel and Egypt are all but sealed, but it has a 40-kilometre (25-mile) coastline stretching the length of the strip along the Mediterranean.

On the edge of a desert, temperatures can reach over 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) in summer months.

Long, power-free summer days in sweltering heat have seen children off school for the holidays nag their parents to go to the beach, tantalisingly close anywhere in tiny Gaza.

A picture taken on July 3, 2017 shows sewage-polluted waters on the beach of Gaza City. (AFP)
A picture taken on July 3, 2017 shows sewage-polluted waters on the beach of Gaza City. (AFP)

There are few public pools to cool down, while many houses have little water.

Around 95 percent of Gaza’s groundwater is unsuitable for human consumption.

Yasser al-Shanti, head of the water authority in Gaza, told AFP that Gaza needed an extra 120 million litres (27 million gallons) of water a year.

Those who can afford it pay to keep their families cool.

“The water in the house is unsuitable for drinking or showering. The sea water is polluted and mixed with sewage,” said Humam, 34, as he poured water on his four children from a filtered water truck.

But the poorest in the enclave have no option.

On Gaza’s beaches, hundreds of children still play in the sea on an average day, with thousands flocking there on Fridays, the Muslim day of rest.

Mohammed al-Sayis went swimming with his siblings in Sheikh Ijlin in southern Gaza after pressuring their father Ahmed to give them a breather from the summer heat.

“It’s hot and humid and there is no power, water or fans in the house,” said his devastated father Ahmed. “The sea is our only outlet.”

The children played in the water for several hours, but they soon showed signs of sickness.

“When we returned home in the evening, I noticed that Mohammed and his brothers were very ill and their condition quickly deteriorated,” he said.

The children were rushed to hospital but Mohammed died 10 days later, while the others eventually recovered.

According to the health ministry, his death was caused by poison ingested during the swim.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • A bank employee leaves the Federal Bank of Lebanon, after being held hostage by an armed customer demanding the return of his bank deposits, in the capital Beirut's Hamra street.

    Hostage standoff at Beirut bank ends with gunman's arrest

    A gunman demanding a Beirut bank let Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, a 42-year-old food-delivery driver withdraw his trapped savings to pay his father's medical bills took up to 10 people hostage in a seven-hour standoff Thursday before surrendering in exchange for what a family lawyer said was $35,000 of his money. A 42-year-old food-delivery driver, Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, was promptly arrested and taken away by police as he walked out of the bank. Some bystanders hailed him as a hero.

  • Nunay Mohamed, 25, who fled the drought-stricken Lower Shabelle area, holds her one-year old malnourished child at a makeshift camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (File image)

    Somalia’s worst drought in 40 years displaces 1 million people

    Somalia's worst drought in more than 40 years has internally displaced 1 million people since the dry conditions struck in January 2021, according to the United Nations. This year alone, an estimated 755,000 people fled their homes in search of water, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement on its website.

  • File photo of Sri Lanka's then president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

    Ex-Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives in Thailand

    Former Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in Thailand Thursday evening following his departure from Singapore. Rajapaksa was granted entry into Thailand following a request from the Sri Lankan government, NewsWire reported. He left Singapore on Thursday after nearly a month's stay in Singapore. Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced the official resignation of Rajapaksa on July 15. Sri Lanka has been facing its worst economic crisis since its independence.

  • Chinese Yuan Wang 5 military vessel has the ability to map ocean beds and track satellites of adversary nations.

    Chinese vessel won't dock at Sri Lanka's Hambantota Port as scheduled: Report

    China's high-tech Chinese research vessel, which was to dock at Sri Lanka's Hambantota Port, won't reach there as scheduled, according to a media report on Thursday, citing the port authorities. Newsfirst.lk website reported that the Harbour Master for the Hambantota Port said no vessel can enter the port without his permission. It said the Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship 'Yuan Wang 5' will not reach Hambantota Port on Thursday.

  • A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station in Miami.

    US gasoline prices fall below $4 for first time since March

    The average price of US retail gasoline fell below $4 per gallon on Thursday for the first time in months, giving some relief to drivers in the world's largest consumer of the fuel. The national average price for regular unleaded gas fell to $3.990 a gallon on Thursday, according to the American Automobile Association. The latest price drop may help President Joe Biden's administration and Democrats in Congress during November's midterm elections.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, August 12, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now