Message from Gaza: Israeli Policies & Climate Change, Pushing Gaza into the Grave

By: Ahmad Abu Safieh, Gaza, Palestine. 18th September 2014.

This message is from the city of Gaza where the annual population growth rate is 2.91% (2014 est.), the 13th highest in the world. Due to the severe damage from the recent 50 day conflict, there is a limited capability to construct new homes and facilities for this growth. The territory is 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 sq mi). As of 2014, Palestinians of the Gaza Strip numbered around 1.8 million people. The large Palestinian refugee population makes it among the most densely populated parts of the world with 4822 (individual/Km2). [1]

Gaza has limited available natural resources to restore and sustain infrastructure and facilities, and as a result, Gaza will be increasingly unable to meet the growing demands of the people who live there. The Gaza Strip relies on a water supply from an underlying aquifer that has been over pumped for decades. By 2020 at the latest, Gaza will effectively be without water. Already most of Gaza’s households have little or no water supply, and the water that is available is seriously contaminated and unfit for human consumption. [2]

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

The economic situation in the Gaza Strip is problematic to say the least. There is a lot of poverty and unemployment figures are very high. Because of restrictions fishing vessels are not allowed to operate beyond a certain fishing zone and farming grounds cannot be reached because of military actions by Israel. Free transportation of people and goods is prohibited, and the airport was destroyed years ago by bombardments.

The Occupation of the Gaza Strip refers to a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip by Israel from 2007 to present. Gaza is facing a power crisis as a result of a shortage of fuel, with blackouts lasting 12-16 hours and sometimes reaches to 20 hours a day. The electricity problem in Gaza is severe, and pump stations have become inoperative, factories have been forced to cut production, leading to layoffs, and hospitals are running on emergency reserves.

“Once more, Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable,” said Filippo Grandi, the UNRWA’s commissioner-general. “Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action.”

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

The Gaza Strip has been one of the successive conflict areas in the world for decades and over time a significant environmental problem has developed in the region. Israel has contributed extensively to the worsening climate crisis through war crimes against humanity in Gaza. During the most recent fighting – from 8 July to 26 August 2014 – Israeli Forces conducted a military operation that specifically targeted Gaza. This devastating operation included bombardment by land, sea and air, with numerous incursions into the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. The environmental situation in this area was already quite serious prior to these recent events, exacerbated by a lack of ability to invest in recovery systems, and a lack of prioritization towards environmental projects.

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

The most recent conflict has caused extensive damage and increased pressure on already deeply stressed environmental facilities and institutions. The most prominent examples are immediately apparent – the large volume of rubble and the significant damage to sewage and wastewater systems. Water supplies have also been critically affected by the destruction of water wells and drinking water pipes. Other adverse environmental effects include the widespread destruction of agricultural areas, severe damage to smaller industrial enterprises, and an alarming increase in toxic pollutants being discharged into the Mediterranean and the local groundwater.

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

The direct damage resulting from these military raids and explosions is immediately evident in the visible destruction of buildings and infrastructure. But there is a much more harmful and debilitating indirect damage that is difficult to calculate since it is long term, and appears gradually over time. An immediate example would be the fires resulting from the bombing, and the remnants of explosive materials and gases which spread and remain stuck in the air, and thus constitute a major threat to life and the environment, and greatly increase the chances of contamination of water, air and soil.

The air pollutant of greatest concern to human health is particulate matter in the form of aerosols, which include haze, dust, particulate air pollutants and smoke. The off-gassing and contaminants from this lead to health damage such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Children, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease are most likely to be affected by this type of air pollution, but for those with heart or lung diseases, premature death can occur as well.

As winter approaches, the air contaminated with these pollutants will turn into rain that will fall on the ground causing more pollution and the destruction of agricultural lands and crops and the spread of diseases. As these toxic substances deposited in the soil reach groundwater and seep into the sea, they will also create an environmental crisis for the wealth of fish that constitute an essential source of food in Gaza. Such damage would not be limited to the inhabitants of Gaza but could also reach to other parts of the world. As a result of ocean currents and weather patterns these contaminants could easily travel to other countries, causing a host of international health and environmental problems.

In addition, on April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth installment of their Assessment Report (AR5), determined that climate change, and the resultant increases in temperature, sea levels, and precipitation, has now become the greatest threat to human life on the planet. The eastern side of the Mediterranean, where Gaza is located, faces serious climate related challenges that will require entirely new policies and environmental strategies in order to successfully cope.

Forecasted climate changes for the eastern Mediterranean mainly affect the start and duration of the different seasons, and the quantity of rainfall. This has two anticipated effects: first, periods of heavier rainfall will be concentrated in a shorter time, with consequent increased run-off and erosion and decreased absorption capacities of the soil. Less retained water will result in lower pasture production, forcing herders to purchase (more) fodder. Second, however, reduced rainfall will result in a lower quantity of water harvested and stored in cisterns, forcing herders to purchase (more) tankered water. [3]

The IPCC predicts that, for the southern and eastern Mediterranean, warming over the 21st century will be larger than global annual mean warming – between 2.2-5.1C◦ according to a realistic emissions scenario (Scenario A1B). Annual precipitation rates are deemed likely to fall – decreasing 10% by 2020 and 20% by 2050 – with an increased risk of summer drought. [4]

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm "Alexa"in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm “Alexa”in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Through the crucial issue of increasing the atmospheric temperature due to  greenhouse gas emissions, their impacts are fraught with consequences in the 21st century for health and human activities, in particular agriculture, fishery, tourism, infrastructures, urbanised coastal areas, water resources and natural areas. In order to minimize as much as possible the economic losses and damages, several adaptation options must be thought out and implemented.

Finally, it is not a game; it’s an open invitation to all; UN, world leaders, international institutions, activists, experts and youth all over the world to act and show their interest through joint action and supportive decision-making positions to save Gaza from the grave. As a citizens of Gaza, there is an urgent need for hard-working, effective techniques and global support to help in these efforts to not only rebuild Gaza decimated infrastructure, but also to prepare it to withstand the increasing environmental challenges that will be faced by many countries all over the world.

Together we should try to build Gaza future in which humans live in harmony with nature. We don’t want only to protect the Gaza environment; we want to create a place where the environment doesn’t need protecting.

———–

Ahmad Abu Safieh is a 24-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza (January 2013) and volunteers with the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM). He may be reached at civil.abusafieh@gmail.com.

References:

  • Mid 2014, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
  • August 2012, “Gaza in 2020 A liveable place?” A report by the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • April 2013, Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Programme of Action for the Palestinian Authority.
  • April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth instalment of their Assessment Report (AR5).
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Filed under Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

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