Water shortages, soil pollution: Hamas’ war puts the environment at risk

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The Israel-Hamas war, which began on October 7, poses a potential danger to the country’s environment, public health and even the resilience of its communities, according to a team of experts from Israel’s Taub Center for Social Policy Research. It is said that there is.

Maya Sadeh, who led the research with Dr Rakefet Shafran-Nathan, said: “We believe that the most important issue today is winning the war and bringing the hostages home, but understanding the environmental impact is important. I think that’s important,” he said.

Sadeh said the 21-page study, which raises concerns about the impact of war on water, energy, fuel, hazardous materials storage, food security, air pollution, nature and wildlife, is a powerful tool for Israeli policymakers and the public. The aim is to attract the attention of The aim is to highlight the potential dangers in these areas and the potential risks to the public health and resilience of the population of the Gaza border area.

drinking water

“Drinking water is a strategic resource during wartime,” the researchers said. However, Israel cannot guarantee clean water to at least 2 million residents and 30% of the country’s hospitals in an emergency.

As Israel has increasingly relied on desalinated water, it has ignored water supplies from wells, including 500 wells that have been shut down and disused due to contamination without any attempt at remediation.

Citrus fruits rot outside a house in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, on November 21, 2023, following the deadly October 7 attack by militants from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas from the Gaza Strip. (Credit: Reuters/James Oatway)

The researchers noted that since October 7, there have been “concerns about a lack of chlorine needed to purify drinking water” and that “these water sources may not be able to desalinate the water.” It should be available in case of an emergency.”

Furthermore, the malfunctioning of Gaza’s sewage treatment facilities is exacerbating the situation. Untreated sewage flows into the Mediterranean Sea and from there to the coasts of Israel, especially the coasts of Ashkelon and Zikim.

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“Untreated sewage flowing onto beaches can cause fly and mosquito infestations and diseases that are spread by physical contact or bathing in water contaminated with pathogens,” the researchers said. “It is caused by excess biological material in the water,” it added. It also has a negative impact on water quality and energy consumption by coastal desalination plants. ”

Sadeh explained that in Gaza, sewage can cause infections and cause illness due to poor hygiene. These diseases could spread to soldiers fighting in the enclaves and be transmitted to Israel.

food security

The flight of thousands of foreign workers from the Gaza Strip and northern border areas and the displacement of tens of thousands of residents, including many farmers, could have a negative impact on Israel’s fresh food supply, study shows It was shown in

For example, during times of peace, farmers in the Gaza Strip accounted for 70% of Israel’s tomato production and 35% of its potato production. The challenge of replacing retired workers has reduced production, prompting local and international volunteers to help. Additionally, the Iron Dome system, which is designed to intercept missiles, does not protect farmland, or “open space,” leaving fields vulnerable. A recent barrage of thousands of rockets has severely damaged agriculture in areas around Israel.

The study also found that military posts and fires contribute to dirt and dust, negatively impacting cotton cultivation in southern Israel, where about 5.7% of the land in the Gaza border area is devoted to cotton cultivation. Became.

Additionally, the war caused significant economic damage to the region’s dairy farms, which supply milk to all of Israel’s dairy manufacturers. This includes damage to livestock and physical infrastructure.

Looking north, 70% of the country’s chicken houses are located in Galilee and Golan, contributing 73% of the country’s production. In addition, 26% of deciduous and subtropical fruits such as avocados, wine grapes, mangoes, peaches, bananas, and citrus fruits are grown in municipalities along the northern border.

The area, which includes the sand dunes adjacent to Nativ Ha’asala and Zikim, the Makhtesh reserve in Behri, and various open spaces and nature reserves along the border, has experienced the negative effects of the conflict. Research shows that prolonged military operations are expected to result in soil contamination with toxic metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and copper, in addition to the presence of fuel and other organic compounds.

Pollution poses a potential threat to agriculture as these toxins can penetrate and negatively impact agricultural practices.

The researchers said: “Before remediating this area, it will be essential to survey the land for signs of contamination and to clean and remediate as necessary.”

The large-scale activity of bulldozers and armored vehicles also endangers the natural habitat of flora and fauna, which are unique to the dune environment.

dangerous goods

There are 3,700 stores in Israel that sell hazardous materials. According to the study, more than 3 million Israelis live in areas at risk of leaking hazardous materials as a result of the war.

In May 2021, a rocket hit a storage unit owned by an energy infrastructure company, starting a fire that continued to burn for several days. The result was severe air pollution, with residents complaining of unpleasant odors, eye irritation, and difficulty breathing.

The report found that six out of nine fire departments with hazardous materials units do not meet firefighter training standards for responding to hazardous materials incidents. Additionally, the report found that response times for trained forces were nearly double the global standard. Therefore, events related to hazardous substances may occur.

They said it could endanger lives, destroy buildings and infrastructure, pollute air, ground and water, damage agriculture and cause economic damage, among other things.

oil spill

The Ministry of Environmental Protection approved an increase in crude oil to be transported through the Gulf of Eilat for local use at any time during the war and for two weeks after the end of the fighting.

Researchers say the decision could increase the likelihood of oil spills, damage the marine environment, negatively impact tourism and even require the closure of the city’s desalination plant. Ta.

“This risk is always present, but is particularly acute in the current context of rockets and unmanned drones launched from Yemen,” the authors write.

funding reduction

Finally, funds that would have been used to protect and clean up the environment and combat the effects of climate change are being diverted to war efforts. For example, the part of the resident tax that normally goes toward waste separation and management has been significantly reduced.

“In early November, the government decided to borrow NIS 820 million from the fund as compensation for reservists,” the researchers wrote. “Aside from the fact that this is contrary to the Cleanliness Act and the funds were not intended for this purpose, using more than half of the funds for purposes other than their intended purpose would delay the implementation of waste management programs. right.”

Sade said that while wars kill people in Israel, most of the deaths in the country are preventable if the government invests more in the environment. He said that in Israel, 74% of carcinogens are emitted from solid waste, and that diverting funds from waste management, even in times of war, could have a negative impact. .

“If we don’t invest enough in civil affairs, lives may be lost,” Sadeh said.

He told the Post that the country has not yet fully assessed the environmental damage caused by actual acts of war, such as hazardous materials from missiles that could be sprayed into different areas. Sade said research has been conducted around the world demonstrating that in combat zones there are more generally harmful substances that can get into the soil and disrupt food chains and cause other damage. That’s what it means.

“To prevent environmental disasters, we must ensure that the institutions that protect the environment are strengthened and given staffing, authority and funding to promote laws and strengthen day-to-day enforcement,” Sadesh said. concluded.

“In the reconstruction and redevelopment of the Gaza border areas, special attention should be paid to the preservation of open spaces, which are critical for health and environmental issues and for the resilience of populations once they return to their homelands. Rebuilding the land is an opportunity to plan for the physical environment and sustainable social and environmental infrastructure.”



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