Ref: 96/2006

Date:  30 August 2006

Time: 12:30 GMT 

Impending Health and Environmental Disaster Threatens Gaza City due to Uncollected Garbage in the Streets

PCHR calls upon the staff and workers of the Gaza Municipality to take into account the formation of emergency committees to prevent an environmental disaster by the accumulation of uncollected garbage from public streets and neighborhoods.  

PCHR is extremely concerned over the accumulation of garbage and waste in the public streets of Gaza City and its neighborhoods, as a result of a strike by Gaza Municipality workers for not receiving their salaries since March 2006. The strike has halted all services offered by the municipality, including garbage collection. The piles of garbage are threatening to cause an environmental disaster risking the lives of civilians. PCHR acknowledges that the right to strike is guaranteed by the law. Nonetheless, the Centre calls upon the municipality staff and workers to save the city from an impending environmental and health disaster.

It is noted that the 1800 staff and workers of the Gaza Municipality, with the exception of 60 staff members in the drinking water and sewage disposal unit, began a partial strike at 12:00 on Wednesday, 23 August 2006, to demand the payment of their salaries that have not been paid since March 2006. The partial strike continued the next day from 11:00-12:30. And on Saturday, 26 August 2006, the staff and workers began a complete strike, and held a demonstration in front of the Municipality garage. The complete strike has continued till the publication of this statement. Throughout the strike the workers organized rallies and marches in the streets and opposite the Palestinian Legislative Council building and Offices of the President and Prime Minister.

On Thursday, 24 August 2006, PCHR’s fieldworkers noticed large piles of garbage and waste in and around garbage cans and boxes in streets throughout Gaza City, in markets, and near key institutions such as hospitals, schools, and governmental buildings. In addition, there was considerable presence of flies and rodents around these places, especially at night. In addition, bad smells issued from these piles.

PCHR considers the right to strike as a right guaranteed by Palestinian law and International Human Rights Law. However, it is unacceptable for striking workers to use public property and the municipality assets to achieve their goals, including municipality vehicles or other assets. The Centre calls upon:

          The union of municipality workers to assess the health and environmental effects of stopping basic services in Gaza City, especially in the field of public sanitation. The Centre calls upon the union to establish emergency teams to prevent any health risks that could threaten the health and safety of civilians;

          The staff and workers of the municipality to assess the health and environmental risks caused by the spread of garbage in streets on the health and lives of civilians. The Centre calls upon them to immediately collect garbage and waste to avert an impending environmental disaster;

          The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to meet the demands of the municipality workers by negotiating directly with their representatives to reach a solution that guarantees the payment of their salaries for the last few months. The Centre calls for a solution that ensures a dignified living standard, especially in light of the deteriorating living conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially the Gaza Strip.

          The Ministry of Local Government to seriously assess the status of municipalities in the Gaza Strip, especially those which are not elected, so as for these municipalities to be run be elected councils; and

          The local community to contribute towards solving this problem by paying any unpaid fees to municipalities, to enable them to pay the salaries of their staff regularly.