Friday, October 30, 2020

Waste from illegal Israeli settlements flowing to Salfit

By Patty Diphusa - July 25, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [environment] [Human rights]


Walking next to the water springs in the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Salfit is enough to realise how serious the matter of water pollution and waste management is.


Stagnant brown water and sludge circulate through what was once a clear stream, the smells emanating from the river are almost unbearable. 


However, this waste does not all originate from Salfit itself.


The Palestinian town lies two kilometres south of Ariel, the second largest illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank and is relentlessly exposed to the environmental consequences of its poor wastewater treatment. 


Moreover, Salfit is also affected by chemical waste flowing into the groundwater from Burkan which boasts the biggest Israeli industrial compound in the West Bank, located barely five kilometres to the west.


For the town of Salfit, once a Palestinian land with a vast natural ecosystem and prosperous landscape, this settlement pollution has become one of their biggest challenges. 


Becoming the dumpster for Israeli waste


A 2009 B’Tselem report found of the 121 settlements that existed in the West Bank, only 81 of them were connected to wastewater treatment facilities. Out of the existing settlement facilities, more than half of them were inadequate to adapt to the rapid growth of the settler population.


Although the report dates back to 2009, evidence suggests that no improvements have been made regarding water pollution by waste coming from settlements. 


In an interview with Palestine Monitor, Director of Health and Environment Department of the municipality of Salfit, Ashraf Zuhud, confirmed that in this regard “waste treatment facilities have not been adapted since the creation of illegal settlement of Ariel and that each year is getting worse than the previous”. 


He continued explaining that over 20 years ago a waste treatment plan was established in the settlement to serve a population of 7000 people; today, over 20,000 people inhabit Ariel. And although the population has grown exponentially, the waste treatment facilities have not been adjusted to this rate.


Waste does not only flow from the Ariel settlement but also from the Burkan industrial compound, which also deposits chemically polluted water containing carcinogenic traces into Salfit. Zuhud explained that “factories have been moved from inside Israel to the occupied West Bank because Israeli population was complaining about the hazards of their waste and chemical pollution of water”. 


Although pollution of water flowing from Ariel and Burkan are amongst the most serious challenge for the town of Salfit, Zuhud also explained that the matter of waste is not limited to water. He stated that “often settlers come during the night to Salfit to deposit their garbage in the Palestinian fields”. 


Contaminated water spring in Salfit.



Serious hazards for the population


Apart from concerns for sustainability and preservation of the Salfit environment, settlement waste pollution also threatens the livelihoods of the local population.


While visiting nearby streams, Ahmad, a local who has personally recorded the deterioration of the environment around Salfit for several years, told Palestine Monitor “people used to come here and enjoy nature”. 


Today, growing evidence also suggests that pollution is bringing a great number of diseases to the population. Ahmad said that although tests are being made to analyse potential hazardous elements in the water, “the unbearable smell of the springs is enough to confirm that it is not a healthy environment”.


Director of Health and Environment Ashraf Zuhud said that the municipality is concerned with the number of cases of people presenting with chronic diseases. Studies argue these are potentially related to the waste of nearby settlements. 


Zuhud explained that substances flowing to Salfit contain carcinogenic elements such as zinc and arsenic.


Research conducted by Birzeit University and Newcastle University in 2015 supports what Ahmad and Zuhud described. It concluded that health problems in the region are resulting from contaminated drinking water. 


After conducting surveys in the district of Salfit, self-reported diseases were claimed by the interviewees: 24.4 per cent reported eye diseases, 46.1 per cent diarrhoeal diseases, and 34.8 per cent of the interviewees reported vomiting. Other illnesses were present in lower percentages for skin diseases, hepatitis A and lice. 


The exploitation of the land in the Salfit district is also being affected by contamination emerging from the settlements as it affects agriculture and farming practices. 


As Palestine Monitor reported in 2013, “pollution has led to the extinction of most native animals and plants in the area”. 


Khaled, an elder of Salfit, who once lived on the land Ariel is now built on but was evicted, said their biggest issue is ground contamination. “I have now lived in Salfit for many years and the land that I now have is difficult to use for agriculture and stockbreeding because the pollution that comes through the water hinders all the products,” Khaled told Palestine Monitor


This problem threatening Salfit district is not shared by illegal settlers. This, According to B’Tselem, is because “they are connected to Israel’s water-supply system, neglect of wastewater treatment in the area has almost no effect on them”.


A feeling of hopelessness arose from talking with many of the locals in Salfit. With no viable solution to the contamination, the situation was summed up by one local asking a question many feel they will never find the answer to; “hala la weyn?”, Where to next?

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