How Israel’s blockade of Gaza led to an environmental catastrophe



Israel is responsible for the worsening environmental crisis in Gaza. Israel has contributed to Gaza’s barely livable state by restricting fishing and what goes in and out of Gaza, and by regularly bombing civilian and agricultural infrastructure.

Some of the bloodiest Israeli airstrikes in recent memory hit the Gaza Strip, but it did not take long for the human impact of the recent hostilities to become clear.

A vivid example was on October 17, when an explosion at Al Ahly Arab Hospital killed hundreds of Palestinians.

But the full extent of the damage caused by the violence, including its impact on Gaza’s worsening environmental problems, may take longer to become clear. Nevertheless, some of the effects of the Israeli siege on Gaza’s environment are already becoming clear.

One of Gaza’s most visible and persistent environmental problems is the lack of drinking water.

In 2019, UNICEF reported a series of alarming statistics. Ninety-six percent of the water in Gaza’s aquifers was “unfit for human consumption,” while only a tenth of Gazans had “direct access to safe water.”

The international organization added that 1.8 million people in the region, half of them children, were in need of “some form of humanitarian water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) assistance.”

UNICEF has described access to WASH as a “fundamental human right.”

At the time, UNICEF called much of the water crisis “a result of the blockade of Gaza,” an assessment echoed by nongovernmental organizations.

Oxfam warned in 2017 that “Israel’s blockade of Gaza has severely restricted the flow of goods, making it extremely difficult to develop water and sanitation infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population.”

In 2020, the human rights group B’Tselem said much the same thing about the “water crisis in the Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade,” claiming that “Israel is responsible for creating this situation.”

Israel has had the Gaza Strip under blockade since 2007, but the water crisis turned into a humanitarian disaster after Israeli authorities declared a siege of the Strip.

As Gaza’s limited drinking water supplies dry up, reports are circulating that Gazans are battling waves of thirst with tap water contaminated with seawater and sewage.

Gaza was once able to rely on desalination plants as a source of drinking water independent of contaminated aquifers, but Israel cut Gazans off the grid on October 9, leaving desalination plants without electricity. is gone.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA, painted a bleak picture of the water crisis in an October 17 report. Given the collapse of water and sanitation services, including today’s closure of Gaza’s last functioning desalination plant, there are growing concerns about dehydration and water-borne diseases. ”

Another high-profile aspect of Israel’s operations in Gaza will be its own damage to the natural environment. In an October 12 press release, Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel is using white phosphorous in Gaza and Lebanon.

Human rights groups say white phosphorus “can cause severe burns to people and ignite nearby structures, fields, and other civilian objects,” and its use “increases the risk to civilians.” “This violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits the incineration of civilians.” Taking unnecessary risks. ”

However, the dangers of white phosphorus go beyond these immediate risks. A 2010 study examining the use of “phosphorus weapons” in urban areas in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen found that “the environment has suffered significant damage.”

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry maintains a fact sheet warning that the substance can contaminate soil, waters, and even animals such as fish, and may pose a long-term threat to humans. are doing.

Given that many Gazans depend on fishing for their livelihood and diet, the impact of further deployment of white phosphorus could be severe. The weapon could also disrupt Gaza’s agriculture, which was already suffering from soil salinity, which the United Nations Environment Program highlighted in a 2020 report.

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But some of the biggest costs to the environment, and to the Gazans who depend on it, may come from the destruction of infrastructure. A 2022 paper by scientists based in Canada, the United States, and Gaza itself argued that “the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure is exacerbating the environmental health impacts.”

The article cites examples where Israeli operations have damaged farmland, contributed to disease outbreaks and pollution, and hindered climate change mitigation and waste management.

The authors emphasized “the Israeli government’s clear responsibility as the occupying power to address environmental degradation affecting the Palestinian people and not to exacerbate it through the destruction of infrastructure.” Intensifying Israel’s siege will exacerbate all these environmental problems.

The extent to which the ongoing violence is affecting Gaza’s environmental problems will only become clear once the violence ends. However, the link between repeated military operations against Gaza and the fight against environmental degradation in the region already seems certain.

A United Nations fact sheet on Palestinian environmental issues says there is a direct link to Israeli policy. “The inability to access and sustainably manage natural resources and enforce laws and directives as a result of the Israeli occupation exacerbates the threat of climate change, especially with high population rates, poverty levels, and food insecurity. I am holding.”

Due to shelling and siege, Gaza’s environment will continue to suffer, as will the Gazans themselves.

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