Tag Archives: environment

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

A New Year’s Resolution – create the parade!!

Lora in Cairo on New Years Eve

Lora in Cairo on New Years Eve

The “Happy New Year” greeting today rings hollow in my ears.    

The world is a difficult home for far too many people. Many of the achievements in the past few years,  according to The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012, have been unequally distributed across and within countries and regions in the world. 

Gender inequality and violence against women are realities for many, many of my sisters; hunger persists (I’ve seen it in the eyes of some Egyptian children this week); maternal health and mortality are distressing; unemployment and underemployment are robbing millions of a secure future; and access to clean water (which damn well should be a basic right of everyone in the 21st century) is nonexistent in many communities!

Closer to home (. . . this year Gaza is my home . . .), the United Nations reported this summer that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.  An international association of democratic lawyers called for an end to the illegal occupation, acts of aggression and war crimes. 

Having witnessed firsthand the 8 days of bombs raining down on Gaza in November, I now have a better appreciation for “acts of aggression.” Read the lawyers’ September resolution here

On the climate change front, world leaders continue to act irresponsibly.  Rather than moving aggressively towards a fossil-free world, most are burying their heads in the sand.  They know better, but are tied at the hip to the Exxons and Chevrons of the world.   

Today’s CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 393 ppm, much higher than what scientists consider safe at 350 ppm, and it is rising rapidly to dangerous levels.    Watch this 17 minute video with David Roberts explaining climate change in simple terms, and then pass it on to everyone you know.  Make sure your Representative in Congress watches it.  

Clearly, we don’t need more platitudes and fake greetings and holiday cheer in the world.  We need action!    Strong, decisive, meaningful action from people . . . lots and lots of people.  We need to create the unstoppable parade that world leaders will find impossible to ignore.  

And what does this parade look like?   A doughnut.

The Life Ring aka DONUT

The Life Ring aka DOUGHNUT

My New Year’s resolution is to build the parade everywhere and anywhere I can . . . . . a parade of people demanding that we live within this DOUGHNUT.  

A senior researcher at Oxfam, Kate Raworth, created this eloquent diagram that says it all.   Watch her explanation here.   The inner ring represents the minimum necessities of life that everyone deserves, or in other words the social foundation, below which we cannot have a just and peaceful world.  The outer ring represents the limits, or the ceiling, above which we must not exceed for a sustainable, livable planet.   Raworth’s idea is explained more fully here.

Everyone who is living above the social foundation today . . . that means you and me and nearly everyone else I know . . . must focus our efforts in 2013 on this doughnut.  I know we can do it.

1 Comment

Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Gaza, Peaceful, People, United Nations, Video

Dear Mr. President

I heard the news of your clear victory when I woke up in Gaza this morning.  Congratulations!

You are an inspiring leader whose words and vision stir many hearts, reminding us that the role of the citizen doesn’t end after election day.  The importance of staying engaged, working together and building coalitions continues.

America is a nation of self-government, you said, where we disagree and argue but in the end, we are united.

I know your role Tuesday night was a cheerleader, but you’ve already had four years in office, and by now you know there are teams playing this game of “self-government.”  Neither wants to lose.

While I like your conciliatory, respectful approach, we both know there is one issue that cannot be compromised.  There is no middle ground; and there is no time to try to find one.

“We want our children to live in a world without the destructive power of a warming planet.”  (Obama’s 2012 victory speech.)

We don’t have time for debates, for half-measures.  Knowledgeable scientists around the world are warning us that we are racing towards some irreversible tipping points.

Climate change is simple.  And it’s getting ugly —- real fast.    Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak and start falling rapidly in the next 5-10 years if we are to have any hope of having a stable climate in the future.

You, Mr. President, by the fate of history, are sitting in the hot seat!!

Our future, and I mean the future of everyone on Planet Earth, is in your hands.   This is not hyperbole.

The United States is responsible for nearly 30% of the cumulative greenhouse emissions spewed into the atmosphere, and our rapacious appetite for consuming the world’s resources is setting a dangerous example for countries wishing to emulate us.

We must change direction and choose a path where your daughters and my granddaughter and all of the children of the world have a fighting chance of a livable future.

The crossroads.

Here is what you should do in the next 30 days.

1) Invite climatologist James Hansen and Bill McKibben to the White House for lunch.  Spend the afternoon listening to their ideas and then follow them!

2) Start the wheels in motion to restore the solar panels on the White House that President Carter first installed but then were removed by President Reagan.

3) Instruct your Secretary of State and all other federal agencies that every segment of the Keystone XL Pipeline proposed or currently under construction in the United States will be stopped . . .  for good.

4) Personally attend the UN climate meeting in Doha, Qatar (November 26, 2012) and follow through with the US commitment to support the Green Climate Fund.

You can do it sir!   And I’m ready to engage and help you.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero

5 Comments

Filed under Climate Change, People, US Policy

Planning to end the occupation!

Urban planners in the USA think THEY have it rough when the community’s Plan sits on the shelf and decision-makers ignore long-term goals for short-term expediency.

The acronym NIMTOO = “Not In My Term Of Office” comes to mine.    That’s when local elected officials just don’t want to rock the boat and anger their constituents.   They prefer to leave the tough decisions to their successors.

Today I learned about some of the really tough obstacles confronting Al Nuseirat Municipality, a city of 80,000-90,000 people in the Gaza Strip.

Al Nuseirat Municipality’s brochure is in both Arabic and English.

The local elected officials invited me to visit and talk about urban planning from the US perspective.   I quickly learned that nothing in my education or experience as a city planner in California could have prepared me for the challenges in Al Nuseirat.

The Local Council and engineers and other staff.

These local elected officials clearly understand the importance of thinking 5-10-20 years out and planning for a better future.  They discussed some of the public planning processes and planning documents they have prepared for Al Nuseirat.   They shared some of the resource demands and challenges with me, but then reality set in.

Presentation of a Plaque in Appreciation from Al Nuseirat Municipality

How does a community “plan” when Israel bombs infrastructure improvements?   How does a community “plan” when there is no local economy and projects are funded by foreign donors who may, or may not, like the community’s plan?  How does a community “plan” when current needs and demands overwhelm the local government’s capacity to respond?

Today I clearly saw the intersection of crisis management and long-term planning and my heart broke because I heard these elected decision-makers express their desire and respect for planning, unlike many elected officials I’ve talked with in the USA.

Living under occupation, at the mercy of an occupying power with an international community (especially the USA) supporting the occupation, community planning is a challenge, to say the least.

I returned to the house after this meeting convinced that the first goal of any community plan in the Gaza Strip must be the end of the occupation and siege.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economic Development, Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, Politics, US Policy

Gaza youth plan climate change action

The youth around the world are leading the rest of us on addressing climate change.   They see the foot-dragging, sorry excuses and indifference from leaders who should know better and they are speaking up.

Get to Work — 350 Now!
Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 2010
Akilah Sanders-Reed is standing behind the sign above the word “get”

In New Mexico, Akilah Sanders-Reed sued Governor Martinez when she was still in high school because the Governor overturned the regulations which were designed to reduce pollution from the coal-fired power plants.   Akilah argued that today’s leaders have a responsibility to protect the air as a public trust for future generations.  The government said Akilah had no case but this summer the court ruled in her favor on a motion to dismiss.  Her attorneys now have the opportunity to make their case.  Yeah!

Solar-power for the music at the 350 rally
October 2010

Akilah has been a tireless climate change educator and advocate.  In October 2010 she organized a conference at her high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Live music at the 350 rally
October 2010

There was music powered by solar energy.   There was organic food and letter-writing, along with other activities.

People sign letters to elected officials about need to take action on climate change.
October 2010

U.S. Senator Tom Udall addressed an audience of about 150 people.   And this all happened because of Akilah’s efforts to wake us up!

Organic food display at the 350 rally
October 2010

Akilah Sanders-Reed organized the 350 rally at her high school
October 2010

About 150 people attended the 350 rally
October 2010

In Gaza, 20-25 university students met today in the first organizing meeting of the new Gaza Chapter of the Arab Youth Climate Movement.

They are planning an action in Gaza to coordinate with actions worldwide on November 3rd leading up to the meeting in Doha, Qatar.   More information about that meeting in Doha here.

I’m looking forward to participating with the youth in Gaza next month as they show the world and their leaders in Palestine that they want a safe and livable planet.  Wake up and listen.   Read the scientific facts here.  The time is NOW to take action!

1 Comment

Filed under Climate Change, Gaza

Today I voted in Gaza!

No, I’m not getting involved in Palestinian politics!

Today I completed my absentee ballot and emailed it back to the County Clerk in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, USA.   I think I can safely say that I’m the only American voting from Gaza this year and so I want to send an open letter to President Obama, whom I hope is reelected in November.

Gaza internet cafe where I made my absentee ballot into a PDF with the help of a friend.

Lora hits the “send” button and votes from Gaza.

Dear President Obama,

Thanks to the wizardry of the internet and email, I just completed my US absentee ballot in Gaza City and emailed it back to the county clerk in New Mexico.  This is certainly a small world.  I’m confident that my ballot will be counted and that my effort to vote for you will make a difference.

Speaking frankly, many of your decisions and actions over the past four years have greatly disappointed me.    On climate change, I expected you to act much more aggressively to curb CO2 emissions.  I thought you understood how dangerously close we (“the world”) are to passing some tipping points and irretrievably pushing our only home (Planet Earth) into a uninhabitable  condition for future generations.

I was arrested with many others in front of the White House last August to show you that the Keystone XL Pipeline proposed from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf must be stopped in its tracks.

Lora is arrested in front of the White House August 2011.

Climatologist James Hansen says it’s “game over” if the CO2 emissions from those tar sands are released, but the pipeline construction is underway in Texas.

What must I, and others, do to convince you that your Administration’s top issue after reelection must be sharply focused on climate change?  There will be no second chance or “do-over.”   The time is now or never.   Since you’re a father of two beautiful girls, please look at them and think about the world you want to leave them.  And then invite Al Gore to the White House and listen to him very carefully.

The second issue that requires your undivided attention is Palestine.  Early in your first term I had some hope when I heard your Cairo speech, but your actions have not been consistent with the new thinking that I thought you represented for the Middle East.

Palestine needs support from the international community (including the US) in its effort t0 throw off the yoke of Occupation.  Israel needs a real friend, not a sycophant in the White House and Congress.  A real friend would help Israel move beyond its role as Occupier and see the realities on the ground in the Middle East.  There will be no security or peace for Israel until there is peace and security and justice for all.

All of those U.S. vetoes at the Security Council, in the face of support from the vast majority of the world’s nations, are unconscionable.  And giving Israel over $3 billion each year to entrench that country’s violations of human rights and international law is inexcusable.  The U.S. has the power and the leverage to support justice for the Palestinians, and we must act consistently with our values.   After your reelection, please invite President Jimmy Carter to the White House and listen to him!

We all live together on Planet Earth and we need to remember the Golden Rule — treat your neighbor as you would want them to treat you.   President Obama, please provide the leadership that I know you have in your heart.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero

3 Comments

Filed under Climate Change, Elections, Environment, Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, United Nations, US Policy

The 3 Rs in Gaza

The electricity just came back on in Gaza so time for a quick post.  It’s difficult to keep current with my writing when there’s power only 1/2 the day.

Today I attended the opening of an environmental exhibition in Khan Younis, a city in the Gaza Strip.   Sponsored by the Palestinian Environment Supporters Association, the GREEN STEPS Exhibition was organized by children ages 9-15 to display the projects they have built from recycled products.

Green Steps Exhibition in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip
October 2012

The goal of the project is to teach the children the three Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — and to encourage them to model this personal ethic at home.

Wouldn’t it be great if children in the US who are learning the same lessons could chat with these kids in Khan Younis?  Not such a far-fetched idea because most of these kids are learning English and Skype is available.  The biggest challenge is probably the difference in time zones.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Environment, Gaza