Palestinians face sewage and garbage issues as summer heat continues in Gaza

Palestinians face sewage and garbage issues as summer heat continues in Gaza

### Palestinians Face Sewage and Garbage Issues as Summer Heat Continues in Gaza

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza (AP) — In the sweltering summer heat, children in Gaza’s crowded tent camps for displaced families navigate through water contaminated with sewage and climb over growing mounds of garbage. With no proper sanitation facilities, people are forced to relieve themselves in makeshift burlap-covered pits, with no nearby place to wash their hands.

The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas has decimated Gaza’s ability to manage waste, treat sewage, and provide clean water. This has exacerbated already grim living conditions and heightened health risks for hundreds of thousands of people lacking adequate shelter, food, and medicine, according to aid groups.

Hepatitis A cases are on the rise, and doctors fear that without significant improvements, an outbreak of cholera is increasingly likely as the weather warms. The U.N., aid groups, and local officials are scrambling to build latrines, repair water lines, and bring desalination plants back online.

COGAT, the Israeli military body coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, stated it is working to improve the “hygiene situation.” However, relief efforts are struggling to keep pace with the urgent needs.

“Flies are in our food,” said Adel Dalloul, a 21-year-old living in a beach tent camp near Nuseirat. His family fled from Rafah after leaving their northern Gaza home. “If you try to sleep, flies, insects, and cockroaches are all over you.”

Over a million Palestinians had been living in hastily assembled tent camps in Rafah before Israel’s invasion in May. Many have since taken shelter in even more crowded and unsanitary areas across southern and central Gaza, which doctors describe as breeding grounds for disease, especially as temperatures regularly reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

“The stench in Gaza is enough to make you immediately nauseous,” said Sam Rose, a director at the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

The emotional toll is also significant. Anwar al-Hurkali, who lives with his family in a tent camp in Deir al-Balah, said he can’t sleep for fear of scorpions and rodents. He doesn’t let his children leave their tent, worrying they’ll get sick from pollution and mosquitoes.

“We cannot stand the smell of sewage,” he said. “It is killing us.”

### Breakdown of Basic Services

The U.N. estimates nearly 70% of Gaza’s water and sanitation plants have been destroyed or damaged by Israel’s heavy bombardment. This includes all five of the territory’s wastewater treatment facilities, as well as water desalination plants, sewage pumping stations, wells, and reservoirs.

Municipal water and waste system employees have been displaced, and some have been killed. This month, an Israeli strike in Gaza City killed five government employees repairing water wells, according to city officials.

Despite staffing shortages and damaged equipment, some desalination plants and sewage pumps are operational but are hampered by a lack of fuel, aid workers say.

A U.N. assessment of two Deir al-Balah tent camps found in early June that people’s daily water consumption — including drinking, washing, and cooking — averaged under 2 liters (about 67 ounces), far lower than the recommended 15 liters a day.

COGAT said it is coordinating with the U.N. to repair sewage facilities and Gaza’s water system. Israel has opened three water lines “pumping millions of liters daily” into Gaza, it said.

However, people often wait hours in line to collect potable water from delivery trucks, hauling back to their families whatever they can carry. The scarcity means families often wash with dirty water.

This week, Dalloul said he lined up for water from a vendor. “We discovered that it was salty, polluted, and full of germs. We found worms in the water. I had been drinking from it,” he said. “I had gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea, and my stomach hurts until this moment.”

The World Health Organization declared an outbreak of Hepatitis A that, as of early June, had led to 81,700 reported cases of jaundice — a common symptom. The disease spreads primarily when uninfected people consume water or food contaminated with fecal matter.

Because wastewater treatment plants have shut down, untreated sewage is seeping into the ground or being pumped into the Mediterranean Sea, where tides move north toward Israel.

“If there are bad water conditions and polluted groundwater in Gaza, then this is an issue for Israel,” said Rose, of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. “It has in the past prompted actions by Israel to try and ameliorate the situation.”

COGAT said it is working on “improving waste management processes” and examining proposals to establish new dumps and allow more garbage trucks into Gaza.

### Where Can Garbage Go?

Standing barefoot on a street in the Nuseirat refugee camp, 62-year-old Abu Shadi Afana compared the pile of garbage next to him to a “waterfall.” He said trucks continue to dump rubbish even though families live in tents nearby.

“There is no one to provide us with a tent, food, or drink, and on top of all of this, we live in garbage?” Afana said. Trash attracts bugs he’s never seen before in Gaza — small insects that stick to his skin. When he lies down, he said, he feels like they’re “eating his face.”

There are few other places for the garbage to go. When Israel’s military took control of a 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) buffer zone along its border with Gaza, two main landfills east of the cities of Khan Younis and Gaza City became off-limits.

In their absence, informal landfills have developed. Displaced Palestinians running out of areas to shelter say they’ve had little choice but to pitch tents near trash piles.

Satellite images from Planet Labs analyzed by The Associated Press show that an informal landfill in Khan Younis that sprung up after Oct. 7 appears to have doubled in length since January. Since the Rafah evacuation, a tent city has sprung up around the landfill, with Palestinians living between piles of garbage.

### Cholera Fears

Doctors in Gaza fear cholera may be on the horizon.

“The crowded conditions, the lack of water, the heat, the poor sanitation — these are the preconditions of cholera,” said Joanne Perry, a doctor working in southern Gaza with Doctors Without Borders.

Most patients have illnesses or infections caused by poor sanitation, she said. Scabies, gastrointestinal illnesses, and rashes are common. Over 485,000 diarrhea cases have been reported since the war’s start, WHO says.

“When we go to the hospital to ask for medicine for diarrhea, they tell us it is not available, and I go to buy it outside the hospital,” al-Hurkali said. “But where do I get the money?”

COGAT says it is coordinating the delivery of vaccines and medical supplies and is in daily contact with Gaza health officials. COGAT is “unaware of any authentic, verified report of unusual illnesses other than viral illnesses,” it said.

With efforts stalled to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Dalloul says he’s lost hope that help is on the way.

“I am 21 years old. I am supposed to start my life,” he said. “Now I just live in front of the garbage.”

Source: Associated Press, CNN

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