Friday, October 30, 2020

Young swimmer becomes first recorded victim of Gaza’s pollution crisis

By The Palestine Monitor - September 06, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza] [Water] [Gaza Blockade]

Mohammed Sayes was a young boy from the north of the Gaza Strip where he used to live in a two-story light brown house with his parents and siblings. In his neighborhood of Zeitoun, everybody has been grieving with the large family after they lost Mohammed on July 29.. The week after he died, many of them would come to visit, and one of the neighbours told Palestine Monitor that she feels she can’t stop thinking about how the situation is unfair and tragic.

“My son is a victim of the worsened situation here and the extremely difficult life in Gaza,” Ahmed Sayes, Mohammed's father, said.

One day in July, Mohammed Sayes went swimming with his family. It’s a common way to spend time for families in the Gaza Strip, especially during the hot summer months when temperatures can reach more than 40 degrees Celsius. He came back from the sea with a scratch on his head. At first, no one in his family really noticed it. Shortly after, everybody from the family felt sick. As it turned out, Mohammed's injury was a sepsis. They took him to the hospital in Beit Hanoun the next day.

“The doctors told us that Mohammed absolutely needed to be treated in the West Bank, and there was no way to take care of him and this disease from Gaza and we could see that he was feeling worst and worst,” Ahmed Sayes recalled.

“Of course, in general, it is very difficult to lose a child, it’s impossible to comprehend this event completely, but in our case, it’s also true we are even more depressed because we feel Mohammed died for reasons that are above us, that we can’t control and that we don’t understand,” Ahmed Sayes, currently unemployed, said referring to the 10-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as the absence of reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, and the Islamist movement Hamas governing the Gaza Strip.

What caused Mohammed’s death? The human rights organization Al Mezan assessed in August that he was the first recorded victim of the growing sea pollution. Mohammed contracted a brain virus from the sea west of Gaza City.

Water from the Mediterranean sea along the Gaza Strip is polluted from waste and sewage water covering up to 70% of the seashore, according to local media.

The Gaza Strip has been suffering from a severe power shortage that affected how the rudimentary sewage treatment works. 10 years of Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza already made it very difficult for Gaza's infrastructure to work smoothly. The only power plant from the Gaza Strip was damaged during the wars and was never fully repaired. There is a lack of fuel to properly operate the power plant. Egypt sent a million liters of fuel at the end of June, but it was not enough to have the power plant working for more than a few days. Electricity supply mostly comes to Gaza from Israel, that cut a significant amount of the deliveries in June. Last Spring, the Palestinian authority in Ramallah had already said it would stop paying for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza. As a result, Gazans now live with less than 6 hours of power daily.

The 70 sewage pumps are not working properly and according to Israeli human rights organization Gisha more than 100 million of liters of wastewater are reaching the seashore each day. Those pumps as well as the waste management system had been improved in recent months thanks to international aid, but now they can’t even be switched on. For engineers managing the machines, they feel they have no choice but letting the waste flow into the sea, as the only other option would be doing the same on the streets.

As pollution spreads, it could even reach Egyptian or Israeli shores.

This Summer, UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the UN is very concerned about the general situation in the Gaza Strip – mentioning an extremely serious humanitarian crisis. She appealed to Israel, the State of Palestine and the Hamas authorities in Gaza to resolve their conflicts.


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