In Palestine, a dysfunctional waste management system has detrimental environmental and health impacts.
The State of Palestine faces multiple environmental challenges, most linked to waste management. In 2020, The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) found that “47% of all waste, including hazardous waste, is disposed of in unsanitary dump sites.” The figures shared by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Plastic Atlas focused on municipal solid waste and underlined that 65% of the waste is disposed of in landfills and 32% in illegal dumping sites. Just 3% of the rubbish is recycled or reused.
The sociopolitical and economic context of a country dominated by occupation makes the global challenge of waste management even greater in Palestine. The country faces issues with all types of waste: solid, liquid, hazardous, and electronic, requiring integrated and better management among all actors involved. The amount of waste produced annually is increasing. For example, municipal solid waste is growing by 4% every year, according to the figures from Plastic Atlas.
If left unaddressed, waste management issues could pose both environmental risks and seriously impact the health of Palestinians.
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
In the case of solid waste management, Italian NGO CESVI underlined that “one of the most important and pressing challenges is the land issue.” The report developed by CESVI explained that following the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinian Authority (PA) administers areas A, and to some extent area B, in the West Bank. But solid waste management treatment plants are only allowed in area A. In addition, the presence of Israeli settlements further complicates waste management. In Gaza, the situation is more difficult due to the Israeli blockade imposed since 2007, which doesn’t allow the entry of materials and prevents the development of infrastructure for solid waste, water and electrical power.
UNEP stressed that “if left unaddressed, waste management issues could pose both environmental risks and seriously impact the health of Palestinians.” This is already a reality across the country. Lina al-Bish and Majdi Musleh, two environmental journalists from Gaza, reported on the effects of illegal landfills on air quality and soil health, and untreated wastewater on the health and livelihoods of citizens. Their reports are framed within the Young Environmental Journalists Training, an initiative of the Environmental Quality Authority and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency under the Strengthening of the Palestinian Environment Action Program.
“The wastewater issue in northern Gaza is that the wastewater resulting from more than 400,000 people who live in Beit Lahiya, Jabalia, and Beit Hanoun, flows to Um al-Nasr, a Bedouin village, where it is collected in enormous basins and seeps out to the aquifer and soil,” explained Dr. Ahmad Hellas, head of the National Institute for Environment and Development, in al-Bish’s report from Gaza. “This situation causes environmental and health disasters that affect all residents, especially immunocompromized and most vulnerable people, such as children, the elderly, and women,” Hellas said.
The inauguration of the North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Plant (NGEST) was a great step to solve the issue of wastewater management in the area, which has been increasing since 2007. However, as highlighted in al-Bish’s report, the project needs comprehensive follow-up, immediate action, and rapid implementation of radical solutions.
In the West Bank, wastewater discharge by Israeli settlements to the Palestinian environment is a growing challenge. According to 2016 data shared by Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON-FoE Palestine), around 40 million cubic meters of wastewater were discharged by settlements onto Palestinian valleys and agricultural lands annually, accounting for five times more wastewater per capita than Palestinians. In a report from environmental journalist Qais Dudin, he shows how the situation in Dura, south of Hebron, is affecting agricultural lands and soil health.
The lack of wastewater management leads to health issues linked to direct contact with polluted water and the contamination of the surrounding environment. This has a direct impact on the citizens’ health. In Gaza, journalist Yamen Aweidah reviewed in his report different health impacts linked to the lack of access to clean water and sanitation in Gaza, ranging from kidney diseases to skin problems.
However, there are projects and initiatives trying to tackle waste management and environmental issues in the country and the region. Environmental journalist Mariam Hilme showcased one of those solutions in Gaza: the recovery of Wadi Gaza. The United Nations Development Project (UNDP) has supported the restoration of Wadi Gaza Nature Reserve in a triple-stage project, starting with the installation of the Gaza Central Treatment Plant in April 2021.
Waste management needs integrated and planned systems with the contribution of all stakeholders, from governments to citizens. The Wadi Gaza story along with many other smaller initiatives might show the way for many others to come.