Thursday, March 19, 2009

Israeli military activity in Gaza war caused sewage pond breach

By Marian Houk,, by March 12th, 2009

It had been predicted — Israeli bombing could breach the earthen walls one of the ponds used to collect sewage in the Gaza Strip, and cause a large and potentially catastrophic sewage overflow. And, it is now clear that there was, indeed, a breach in one of the sewage containment walls in Gaza, caused by some form of Israeli military activity.

Not reported until now, but evident from a United Nations analysis of satellite photos, is an overflow from a sewage pond in the Sheikh Ejleen area in Gaza. The overflow was “violent”, with “indications of severe land erosion”, according to analysis of the satellite maps together with photographs taken on the ground by a UN Environment Program (UNEP) mission to Gaza.

Sari Bashi, Executive Director of GISHA, the Israeli human rights organization that has gone to Israel’s Supreme Court to try to stop Israeli military-administered sanctions against the entire Gaza Strip, said on Friday 13 March that her office had received an affadavit confirming damage from an IDF attack that hit Gaza’s sewage infrastructure.

Maher Najjar, Deputy Director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), said in an affidavit to GISHA that “on Jan. 10, one of the sewage lagoons at the Gaza treatment plant, the third one, was hit by Israeli shelling, and the sewage has started to seep into nearby areas. The spillway has reached one kilometer, meaning that the sewage is already running one kilometer past the lagoon, contaminating homes and farmland nearby, which is highly dangerous for residents. There is an additional danger of contamination of the drinking water, if sewage leaks into the valves of the water network. We had given the coordinates of the plant and lagoons to the Israeli military, through the ICRC, and asked that it not be hit…”

Najjar confirmed in a telephone interview from his home in Gaza on Friday 13 March that “one of the earthen shoulders of a sewage lagoon of the main treatment plant in Gaza City had received two hits from F-16s, the shoulder was damaged, and 500,000 cubic meters of raw sewage spilled out”. He said this had happened in the first ten days of January. “The main problem is we are afraid of the pollution from this spill into Gaza’s underground water aquifer", [n.b. The only source of water in the coastal strip, which was already not only too saline from over-pumping, but also already polluted.]

Najjar explained that the land in the area around the sewage lagoon was rather sandy, so “the flood of spilled sewage infiltrated quickly into the aquifer”.

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