Gaza coastline becomes main recreational outlet this summer after sewage cleanup
LONDON: Thousands of families are flocking to Gaza’s beaches this summer as the coastline becomes the territory’s main recreational outlet. For the first time in years, most of the Gaza Strip’s coastline is clean enough to swim in, thanks to a concerted effort to clean up sewage.
“We didn’t come for seven years because the water was unsafe. Now it looks so much better… The color is different, more blue. It’s our second day at the beach this year,” Nabila Haniya told the Guardian.
“We have a lot of wars and troubles. Children deserve to have fun,” Haniya added.
After 15 years of Israeli-Egyptian blockade, one of the most pressing problems for the 2.2 million people residing in Gaza is access to drinking water.
Due to Israeli restrictions on imports and lack of proper maintenance, sewage treatment plants were overwhelmed years ago. Nearly 97% of the water in Gaza’s only aquifer is no longer drinkable, the Guardian report added.
For more than a decade, untreated waste has been dumping directly into the sea, causing an environmental catastrophe and polluting one of the only affordable recreational opportunities in the isolated territory.
However, over the past year, Gaza’s three internationally funded sewage treatment plants have been able to ramp up their operations, in part thanks to a steadier and more abundant supply of electricity.
In October 2021, 180,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day was dumped into the Mediterranean. Today, 70% of wastewater is diverted to modern treatment facilities, with the remaining 30% partially treated. This means that 95% of the waste is eliminated before the water returns to the environmental cycle.
The improvements have reduced sea pollution to its lowest level in years, prompting the local water authority to declare that 65% of the coastline is now classed as ‘green’ or ‘yellow’, indicating that it is safe to swim.
Children ride in and out of the waves on the beach in Sheikh Ijlin, a neighborhood in southern Gaza City, begging their parents for camel rides and cotton candy. Seven lifeguards monitoring Sheikh Ijlin beach told the Guardian that this summer was the busiest season remember.
The clear, blue water is a welcome sight in Gaza, where traffic is severely restricted. More than half of the population is unemployed, and electrical and medical infrastructure has collapsed.
An Israeli ban on the entry of what it considers ‘dual-use goods’, such as building materials that can be reused by Hamas, also poses an ongoing threat to Gaza’s drinking water supply. .
“We need to replace worn-out pumps in sewage treatment and desalination facilities, otherwise they will overflow. But I can’t just place an order, I have to get approvals and negotiate with the Israelis to bring in parts. The moment I did that, even more damage was done,” Omar Shatat, deputy executive director of the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Department, told The Guardian.
“We could rebalance the water cycle in Gaza in five years without the occupation. As things stand, you can’t call anything sustainable here. I try to anticipate what Gaza’s needs will be in five years, 20 years, but it’s impossible,” he added.
Shatat warned that the progress made in cleaning up the sea this year is fragile and could easily be lost: “If the electricity supply becomes unstable again, more sewage will be pumped into the sea. What changed is that sewage here became such a huge problem that it was also starting to affect beaches and desalination plants in Israel.