Gaza coast becomes main recreational outlet this summer
“We didn’t come for seven years because the water wasn’t safe. Now it looks so much better … The color is different, more blue. This is our second day on the beach this year, ”Nabila Haniya told the Guardian.
“We have many wars and problems. Children deserve to have fun, “added Haniya.
After 15 years of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, one of the most pressing issues for the 2.2 million people residing in Gaza is access to safe water.
Due to Israeli import restrictions and a lack of proper maintenance, wastewater treatment plants were overwhelmed years ago. Nearly 97% of the water in Gaza’s only aquifer is no longer potable, the Guardian report added.
For more than a decade, untreated waste has flowed directly into the sea, causing an environmental disaster and polluting one of the few affordable recreational opportunities in the isolated territory.
However, over the past year, Gaza’s three internationally funded wastewater treatment plants have been able to ramp up operations, in part thanks to a more substantial and abundant supply of electricity.
In October 2021, 180,000 cubic meters of sewage per day were discharged into the Mediterranean. Today 70% of waste water is diverted to modern treatment plants, while the remaining 30% is partially treated. This means that 95% of the waste is removed before the water returns to the environmental cycle.
The improvements have reduced marine pollution to its lowest level in years, prompting the local water authority to declare that 65% of the coastline is now classified as “green” or “yellow”, indicating it is safe to swim.
Children run in and out of the waves on Sheikh Ijlin Beach, a neighborhood south of Gaza City, begging their parents for a camel and cotton candy ride. Seven lifeguards patrolling Sheikh Ijlin Beach told the Guardian this summer is the busiest season they can remember.
The clear, blue water is a welcome sight in Gaza, where movement is severely restricted. More than half of the population is unemployed and the electrical and medical infrastructure has collapsed.
Israel’s ban on the entry of what it considers “dual-use items”, such as building materials that can be reused by Hamas, also poses a continuing threat to Gaza’s clean water supply.
“We need to replace the pumps used in wastewater treatment and desalination plants, otherwise they would overflow. But I can’t just place an order, I have to get approvals and negotiate with the Israelis to bring any part. When I did, even more damage was done, “Omar Shatat, executive deputy director of Gaza’s coastal municipalities water service, told The Guardian.
“We could rebalance the water cycle in Gaza in five years if it weren’t for the occupation. As it stands, 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, ”she added.
Shatat warned that the progress made in sea remediation this year is fragile and could be easily lost: “If the electricity supply becomes unreliable again, more sewage will be pumped into the sea. I think the reason things have changed is because the wastewater here has become such a big problem that it was starting to affect the beaches and desalination plants in Israel as well. ”