Congressmen from both houses of Congress have sent a letter to Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman and Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz demanding a long-term solution for the supply of electricity to the water purification facility in the Gaza Strip. They assert that the absence of an immediate solution will have severe health and environmental consequences on both sides of the border.
The World Bank spent $80 million on construction of a water purification plant in the Gaza Strip, but the plant is barely operating, due to a shortage of electricity. Sewage in the Gaza Strip is flowing into the Mediterranean Sea and rivers, and is polluting them. Water currents bring the sewage northeast to Israel, and damage the aquifers on both sides of the border.
The resulting health hazards were described in a report published by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and EcoPeace Friends of The Earth Middle East, who argue that "a critical, existential strategic problem of the first order for the State of Israel" is involved.
Hof Ashkelon Regional Council head Yair Farjun said that the problem of raw sewage in the Gaza Strip is having a big impact in Israel. "A month ago, 100,000 cubic meters of sewage flowed down the slope of Nahal Hanun towards Nahal Shikma. In order to stop this flow, we had to make an improvised dam. After mortar fire from the air and tunnels from underground, now we're being attacked by sewage," he complained, adding, "All the authorities we contacted answered that they were not responsible for helping to solve the problem."
The Coordination Unit for Government Activities in the Territories recently approved a 6 megawatt increase in power for the Gaza Strip. On the Palestinian side, it was hoped that this extra electricity would facilitate continuous operation of the water purification facility and prevent sewage from reaching the sea. It emerged, however, that the electrical grid in the Gaza Strip was incapable of supporting the added capacity. This was the development that led to the Congressmen's letter, which stated, "The sale of the additional 6MW of energy, and the subsequent operation of the Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Project (NGEST), will have an immediate and tangible impact on limiting the flow of raw sewage into the Mediterranean, which poses serious health risks to both Israeli and Palestinian communities along the coast… As sanitation services and clean water access improve, communities become more stable, potentially undermining groups like Hamas that use civil unrest as a recruiting tool… As you consider the long-term viability of sewage treatment operations, particularly increases in operations to address growing sewage needs, the sustainable provision of electricity is critical. By ensuring continuous reliable operations, the health and safety of Israel's southern coast will improve…"
Farjun, who also chairs the Hof Ashkelon Planning and Building Commission, says that he held meetings with representatives of the World Bank and the Palestinian Authority in a joint attempt to solve the sewage problem. He revealed that the World Bank also undertook to pay for both building a special electricity tension wire from Israel to the water purification facility and the costs of the electricity.
According to EcoPeace Friends of the Earth Middle East Israel director Adv. Gidon Bromberg, which has been trying for several years to eliminate the hazards of sewage in the region, "The hazards of the sewage flowing from the Gaza Strip are an existing fact that cannot be ignored. Sewage constitutes a health hazard not only in the Gaza Strip, but also for nearly a million Israelis. It is a ticking bomb, and it is only a matter of time before it leads to the closure of beaches, destruction of groundwater, and the outbreak of disease on both sides of the border."
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories stated in response, "Israel is the main supplier of electricity to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians decide the internal distribution of electricity inside the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the Gaza Strip has unutilized electrical production capacity that could be used to operate the sewage purification facility, among other things.
"We add that the Coordination Unit for Government Activities in the Territories is conducting staff work to consider possible solutions for the general shortage of energy in the Gaza Strip, including the laying of a pipeline for the transportation of natural gas, to be brought to the political echelon for a decision after it is completed. This solution will provide a complete and long-term answer to the Gaza Strip's energy problems that will affect the lives of all Gaza Strip residents."
Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources director general Shaul Meridor said that maximum efforts for cooperation were being made with the quartet ,while options for the direct supply of electricity to the wastewater purification plant were also being considered and it is hoped that a decision will be taken in the coming weeks.