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“The untreated sewage channels are now between the tents": Gaza faces environmental disaster after eight months of crisis  

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Today on World Environment Day (June 5), ActionAid is highlighting the devastating impact that eight months of bombardment has had on the environment in Gaza and the long-term consequences of the destruction.   
The Israeli military’s onslaught has not only been a disaster for the people of Gaza - killing more than 36,500 people and displacing more than 85% of the population. It has been a disaster for the environment too, leading to a major increase in pollution of the land, soil and water, according to UNEP.  

An estimated 55% of structures in Gaza have been damaged by bombing, leaving the land covered in at least 37 million tonnes of debris, much of which is laced with unexploded bombs, according to UNMAS. Chemicals and toxins from munitions have seeped into and contaminated the soil and groundwater. The Israeli military’s aerial bombardment has damaged 42.6% of cropland, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, while satellite imagery shows that almost half of Gaza’s trees have been razed.  
This has severely hampered Gaza’s capacity to feed itself by growing vegetables, fruit and wheat at a time when the population is at risk of famine and more than 3,500 children under the age of five risk dying due to the shortage of food, according to Gaza’s Government Media Office. In the past week alone, two children have reportedly died as a result of malnutrition.   
In some areas of Gaza, raw sewage is running between tents and mountains of rubbish are piling up in the streets because sewage and waste facilities are either damaged or unable to function due to the lack of fuel. This not only poses a serious immediate health risk to the population but will have serious long-term consequences for the environment. Amjad Al Shawa, the director of the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO), an umbrella organisation of 30 Palestinian NGOs and a partner of ActionAid Palestine, told ActionAid: ”The shortage of fuel affects the municipality services to collect [and treat] sewage and collect rubbish from the streets and between the shelters, which [are] now overcrowded with the new [internally displaced people].The untreated sewage channels [are now] between the tents, which is a serious concern for the people who are living in these plastic or cloth tents. It has serious implications on the health situation, and we have concerns regarding the contagious diseases.” 
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are having to endure these conditions in the midst of a scorching heatwave, without enough water or sufficient shelter from the sun. The lack of fuel means that vital desalination plants have shut down, UNRWA says, forcing people to walk long distances in the heat to try and find water.  
In the West Bank, too, Palestinians are being denied their right to a clean and safe environment.  A recent report found that sewage and other hazardous wastewater from Israeli settlements was being dumped in Palestinian lands, damaging crops and leaving agricultural land unusable.   
Meanwhile farmers are regularly being prevented from accessing their grazing land, crops and olive trees by restrictions of movement imposed by the Israeli authorities or settler violence.  
Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine said: 

“As well as killing tens of thousands of Palestinians, mostly women and children, the Israeli military’s brutal onslaught of Gaza has had a devastating impact on the natural environment, severely disrupting its ecosystems and biodiversity. Even if this crisis ended tomorrow, its poisonous legacy will live on in the land, soil and water for many years to come.  
“The destruction of agricultural land and greenhouses has made food production almost impossible in Gaza, and with only a trickle of aid entering the territory, people are starving, and children are dying of malnutrition. The current heatwave is making life even more intolerable for Gaza’s hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have nowhere to hide from the sun and no water to quench their thirst. The high temperatures will only increase the health risks posed by the raw sewage and piles of rubbish in the street.  

“This unbearable situation cannot go on any longer, there must be a permanent ceasefire now to prevent more lives being needlessly lost and so that aid on the vast scale required can be safely delivered to those in need.”  

Contact the ActionAid press office on or on 07753 973 486.