On Thursday, 14 March 2019, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) organized a workshop titled as “Environmental and Health Risks of Wastewater Crisis in Northern Gaza Strip” in PCHR’s office in Jabalia refugee camp. The workshop was attended by experts representing the Northern Gaza Municipalities, Water Authority, Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), Ministry of Health, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Media outlets.
Dr. Fadel Al-Muzaini, a researcher in PCHR’s Economic and Social Rights Unit, opened the workshop saying that it comes in the context of PCHR’s keenness to follow up societies’ issues in order to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of the Gaza Strip residents. Al-Muzaini stressed that the right to access basic services is guaranteed in accordance with human rights law, international legislations and conventions which guarantee each person’s right to an adequate standard of living to ensure the necessary services, including water and sanitation services.
Engineer Yahiya Abu ‘Obeid, Wastewater Advisor at CMWU, said that the wastewater department is facing many problems such as lack of costs to operate the sewage plants and sewage treatment plants; the power shortage in the Gaza Strip, inability to repair the plants and bring in experts and technicians to follow up the maintenance work. Abu Obeid added that the reliance on international donors ensures that the water and wastewater sectors start financing the construction of plants, but does not provide the subsequent costs, which impede the operation of sewage plants. He called for forming a unified body comprised of municipalities and competent institutions to pressurize towards having alternatives and collective management of plants of desalination, water, treatment, and pumping.
Engineer Hamdi Mutair, Director of the Water and Wastewater Department in Jabalia Municipality, said that the sewage plants in the northern Gaza Strip need to be developed to avoid health and environmental crises which affect the population. He pointed out to the high cost of operating the plants using fuel, enumerating the challenges facing the municipality such as the lack of funding, shortage of vehicles for maintenance and transportation, spare parts and maintenance equipment. Mutair added that the Israeli closure has hampered the implementation of the wastewater treatment project for several years due to the ban on the entry of necessary materials and equipment such as water pipes and transformers.
Enigneer Mazen Abu Samrah, Director of the Wastewater Department at the Water Authority, reviewed the role of the Water Authority in the completion of strategic projects and the development of non-conventional sources such as seawater desalination and the establishment of three plants along the coast to treat wastewater (Khan Younis Plant: Treatment of 26,000 cubic meters per day; Central Gaza Strip Plant: 60,000 cubic meters per day; and Northern Plant: 36,000 cubic meters). Abu Samrah stressed that banning the entry of spare parts and chemicals and the ongoing power outage significantly obstruct the operation of water plants and sewage pumps and plants, noting that the water plants need 2 Mega Watts while the recovery wells need 6 Mega Watts; in addition, the central pump need 0.5 Mega Watts.
Dr. Jaber Al-Kasih, Director of Wastewater Department in the Municipality of Beit Lahia, called for maintaining the treatment plants in the northern Gaza Strip by providing the required quantities of fuel to operate them and increasing the donations and government expenditures to ensure periodic maintenance and provide tasks and salaries to those supervising. He emphasized that the wastewater shall be exploited to be reclaimed for to be fit for human use.
In his intervention, Dr. Khaled Al-Tibi, Head of the Water Control Department at the Ministry of Health, pointed out to the environmental and health risks resulting from the sewage crisis in the Gaza Strip, which lead to high rates of infectious diseases, stressing that the sewage crisis led to pollution of sea water and indispensible recreation places used for summering in the Gaza Strip.
The workshop concluded with a thorough discussion by participants about the sewage crisis in the northern Gaza Strip. Participants recommended:
- International, governmental and non-governmental support provided to the sewage sector in the Gaza Strip.
- Expanding the Northern Gaza station by allocating government funds to ensure the operation of wastewater plants and wastewater treatment plants.
- Establishing an independent national body of experts concerned in the water and wastewater sectors to accomplish the strategic projects and manage water production and distribution through partners.
- Securing independent sources of energy to avoid the crisis of frequent electricity outage in the Gaza Strip.
- Resorting to teams of experts and technicians to operate and periodically maintain the sewage pumps and plants, and work on the rehabilitation of local technicians to follow up the operation of plants.