Today’s feature in the Guardian’s “Global Development” blog sheds light on pollution in the Gaza Strip from the perspective of its most vulnerable residents–its children. Primary school children from al-Zarqa, one of Gaza’s poorest areas, created pictures to illustrate their hopes and wishes for clean, safe neighborhoods in which to live, go to school and play. One nine year old student who drew a picture of house surrounded by flowers said “we do not have a good sewage system in my street and because of this we suffer a lot from crawling insects and mosquitoes. I wish we lived in more safety.” Another nine year old wished for “cleaner beaches so that everyone could enjoy them.”
Although we tend to focus on medical care when think of Palestine’s health-related problems, environmental health is just as critical to the well-being of the population. Environmental health includes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the places we live–and when it comes to environmental health, Gaza is a disaster.
The number one environmental health issue for Gaza appears to be sewage: because Gaza lacks sufficient sewage treatment plants, millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage flow into the sea every year. While this presents a clear health hazard (children who swim in the sea often end up with skin, eye and ear infections), children have also drowned in overflowing sewers. According to the United Nations, one-third of Gaza’s population is not connected to a sewage network, and Israel’s blockade makes it difficult to import the materials needed to improve sewage treatment infrastructure. As a report from the Institute of Development Studies remarked, “air pollution, contamination and solid waste are everywhere and there is no escape from it.”
The good news, according to the World Bank’s latest report on the West Bank and Gaza, is that technical solutions to these problems are available–it’s just “a matter of bringing about the necessary coordination and cooperation between the Palestinian Authority, Government of Israel, and the donors in order to ensure that funding is not only available but also able to be put to good use.” This is exactly the void that ACP seeks to fill–facilitating the coordination that will lead to improved health conditions in Palestine.
(Photo courtesy of UNICEF)