Inoperative Gaza sewage plant endangers Ashkelon

Gaza power station

An argument over electricity supply is potentially exposing Ashkelon region residents to typhus and cholera.

In the absence of Israeli agreement to supply power specifically for the water purification plant in Gaza, more than 90,000 cubic meters of sewage are poured into wadis in the Gaza Strip daily, and the water makes its way to the Mediterranean Sea reaching just a few kilometers from the coast at Ashkelon, near one of Israel's largest seawater desalination plants.

The accumulation of sewage and the pollution of drinking water reserves have caused sporadic outbreaks of contagious diseases such as typhus and cholera, and, according to experts, the chances are growing that they will spread on a large scale to the Israeli settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip.

More than a year has passed since construction was completed of the first regional sewage treatment plant of its kind in the Gaza Strip, at an investment of over $80 million by the World Bank and the international community, but the plant stands idle, because there is not enough electricity to operate it.

Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22) currently supplies 120 megawatts daily to the Gaza Strip, but that is not enough to operate the purification plant. In April last year, acting chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority Dr. Omar Katana wrote to then IEC CEO Eli Glickman asking him to expand the power supply from Israel to the Gaza Strip by 10 megawatts, with the extra supply to be used exclusively for operating the purification plant. According to estimates by the World Bank, even a supply of 3 megawatts would be sufficient to operate it for the next three years, at least until power production plants in the Gaza Strip are rehabilitated.

Eighteen months after that approach, there is still no power. Not only that, in Operation Protective Edge the purification plant was hit, causing damage estimated at $150,000.

The health risks arising from the non-operation of the Gazan purification plant are highlighted in an unusually severe report published by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and Ecopeace Friends of the Earth in September. The report's authors, Gideon Brumberg, Dr. Oded Eran (a senior research associate at INSS and a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and the EU), and Michal Milner, describe the state of sewage treatment and the water shortage in the Gaza Strip as "a critical, existential strategic problem of the first order for the State of Israel," adding, that "epidemics that break out in Gaza will not stop at the border - they will also endanger every Israeli."

Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research also warns of the health risks. In a report, it points to a rise in the number of microbes in the shallow waters off Ashkelon not found in other Israeli waters. One of the hypotheses raised in the institute's report is that the cause of this trend is the sewage flowing from the direction of the Gaza Strip.

The Water Authority has also in the past recognized the possibility of contamination of parts of Israeli aquifers as a result of sewage seeping in from the Gaza Strip. It will be recalled that sewage was the cause of the outbreak of cases of polio in Israel earlier this year.

Ecopeace Friends of the Earth, which works for cooperation on environmental, water and energy matters as a means of promoting peace between Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, said, "We call on Israel to accede to the request for a limited period, because of the huge damage that will be caused to the environment, the seawater and the groundwater on both sides, and because of the joint interest in dealing with environmental and health hazards in the region."

The Coordinator of Israeli Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories said, "The sewage purification plant is in the process of being built and has therefore not started operating. The Gaza power station operates intermittently due to the difficulties in the Palestinian Authority's finances, which are assisted by donations. Israel has proposed solutions by increasing electricity supply in order to ensure the operations of the sewage purification plant but this has not helped. Israel supplies electricity to the Gaza strip via 10 lines despite the Palestinian Authority's debt to the IEC."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 3, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

Gaza power station
Gaza power station
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