The Death Swamps
It was bound to happen. All of the major humanitarian organizations issued endless reports and warnings about its imminent flooding. But even if the funding was available, the permission to expand and renovate the facility was not granted by the necessary "Authorities" who built it (on a major acquifer) in the first place.
I'm referring to the collapse and flooding of Gaza's northern sewage treatment facility, known locally as the "Death Swamps", which you can see here on wikimapia.
5 people died when the cesspool that has been created as a result of the facility working almost 4 times its normalcapacity flooded today-including two toddlers and two elderly women.
(Photo by Darryl Li)
"This was not only foretold, it happened twice before, in 1988 and 1993," tells me human rights consultant, and friend, Darryl Li, who has worked for Israeli, Palestinian, and International HR groups. Darryl's last trip was in August, to this very facility.
According to Darryl, the sewage facility is a collection of seven manmade lagoons at the edge of the former settlement bloc. "When working properly, the facility cleans waste water and then redeposits it into the aquifer. It has long been described as a major environmental problem: it is overtaxed and untreated sewage has long been polluted the groundwater in the area, and the facility has flooded at least twice."
The facility stopped functioning entirely in the weeks after the power cutoff last year (when Israel bombed Gaza's power plant), and later functioned at very low efficiency levels with generators. Water level consuquently rose dangerously high.
The embankments of the cesspool have also been the target of frequent Israeli shelling, threatening their integrity, says Li.
[photo: Darryl Li. A crater created as a result of Israeli shelling near the sewage facility.]
Donor funding has been pledged for years, but the facility now falls in the border "security zone" and no guarantees have been forthcoming about construction, or to allow the water to be transferred from Bayt Lahiya to the new site.
The only emergency solution is to basically pump the raw sewage out onto Gaza's sea
coast. This would pollute Gaza's sea coast and Ashkelon's desalinzation plant immensely.
According to a UN OCHA report issued in 2004, 110 acres were already flooded by waste from the plant by that year, and the area was growing. 50% of the children in neighbouring villages had digestive problems related to the overlfowing sewage and contmination of drinking water in the area.
"In November 2003, an international donor withdrew support from an earlier agreement to fund a new treatment plant through a concessional credit. The donor was concerned by continuing political uncertainty, and by anticipated delays in project implementation. The donor also feared that international technical consultants might not gain access into Gaza," read the report, in reference to Israeli restrictions (then, and now even more-so) on the entry of foreigners into Gaza.
OCHA recommended the construction of an additional basin that would reduce the volume in the lake, and eventually, the constructin of a new treatment plant.
[Picture: Darryl Li]
New donors expressed interest later that year, but local officials say Israel has threatened to disrupt (by way of bombings) any construction effort. And now of course, with all major funding stopped, and barely enough money to pay government workers, let alone renovate a majore sewage treatement plant, there is little hope that anyone will take on this project.
Says Li: "This is life in a 'disengaged' Gaza: It is not enough to be locked into an open-air prison by Israel. Nor to be turned into a beggar by the international community for voting in a democratic election. Nor to be torn apart by internal feuding. Now Palestinians have to drown in their own shit? I can't wait to hear the latest excuse about how this, too, is their own fault."