Report: Gaza's Water 'Unfit to Drink'

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Common Dreams

Report: Gaza's Water 'Unfit to Drink'

New report describes ongoing health impact of the blockade of Gaza

by
Common Dreams staff

A report released today, the fifth anniversary of the blockade of Gaza, from the charities Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) describes how Gaza's water supply is heavily polluted by fertilizer and human waste, and states that nearly all of the water in Gaza is "unfit for drinking."

Girl Drinking Clean, Safe Water at Bureij Elementary School

Gaza's broken sewage system, severely destroyed in Operation Cast Lead, has lead to open cesspits and waste-caused nitrate pollution.  The high levels of nitrates in the water, ten times the safe levels established by WHO, have been linked to anemia and some cancers, and are wreaking health havoc heavily upon children and pregnant women in Gaza, the reports details.

"The blockade is a blight on the lives of Gaza's civilians. It is shocking to see so many children struggling to live a fulfilled and healthy life -- unable to play in safe areas and forced to drink dirty and dangerous water that is making them sick," said Aimee Shalan, MAP's Director of Advocacy and Communications.

Barbara Lubin, Co-Founder and Director of Middle East Children's Alliance, which has built dozens of water treatment units at schools in Gaza, adds that "43% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza are under 15 and the water that children drink every day is poisoned. This is collective punishment at its worst."

The report states bluntly, "Gaza is not a safe environment. Its water supply and land are contaminated with pollutants that will threaten the health of people living in Gaza for generations. "

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From the report: Gaza’s Children: Falling Behind
The effect of the blockade on child health in Gaza

Gaza is not a safe environment. Its water supply and land are contaminated with pollutants that will threaten the health of people living in Gaza for generations. [...]

The blockade prevents Gaza’s children from having normal opportunities to play in safe areas and to drink clean water as access to essential materials and land is severely restricted.

In five to ten years, Gaza’s depleted aquifer, the sole water source, will stop producing water suitable for human consumption.  Currently, more than 90% of the water supplied through Gaza’s aquifer does not meet WHO’s safety standards and is unfit for drinking.

A September 2010 assessment found that 1.1 million Gazans in nearly half of Gaza’s municipalities are at high risk of consuming biologically contaminated drinking water from private vendors, the source of water for most Gaza residents. Bacteriological contamination (either from poor hygiene in the home or contaminated water) was found in 63% of households sampled.

Concentrations of chloride and nitrate, which is a component in fertilizer and is found in human and animal waste, are as much as ten times the safe levels established by WHO.  According to WHO, the ingestion of high levels of nitrates in drinking water has been linked to anemia and some cancers. Long-term exposure has been shown to inhibit growth and cause Vitamin A deficiency in lab animals.

High levels of nitrates pose a particular health risk to pregnant women and children. Although concerns have been raised about nitrate poisoning in infants in Gaza, the issue has yet to be thoroughly investigated. The most recent studies from 1998 and 2002 of infants and children indicated 48% prevalence of nitrate poisoning. Many more children are thought to be at risk today. [...]

The compound problem of Gaza’s depleted aquifer, a lack of a proper sewage treatment and disposal system, and the difficulties of providing adequate service-delivery has produced a grave environmental situation with significant health risks.

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Barbara Lubin, Co-Founder and Director of Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)

People need to realize that this humanitarian crisis is deliberate and created by the US -supported Israeli blockade. 43% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza are under 15 and the water that children drink every day is poisoned. This is collective punishment at its worst. MECA applauds the recommendations in this report and amplifies that "Children have the right to a life that is free from violence abuse and neglect. In Gaza, immediate action is needed to address the factors that are breaking down family, community, and environmental protections for children and adversely affecting their health."

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