Gaza fishermen struggle to eke out a livelihood

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Held each year on 22 March, International World Water Day draws attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources around the world. In Gaza, the ongoing occupation, the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, as well as the dumping of sewage in the sea are some of the factors that have prevented Palestinians from enjoying clean, healthy water. The story below is about a fisherman whose livelihood has been nearly destroyed due to water pollution on Gaza’s seashore.

Blockade and wastewater’s effect on Gaza’s fishermen

52 year-old Khalil Ibrahim Al-Habil, a Palestine refugee living in Gaza, has been a fisherman for all of his adult life. The Israeli blockade on the coastal enclave in recent years has made it extremely difficult for him to support his family of 12.

“Ten years ago, there was a 12-mile limit on fishing, but now, we have been relegated to six miles”, said Al-Habil.

The Israeli-imposed fishing limit and the sewage water being poured into the sea means that Gaza’s fishermen are forced to fish in mostly polluted water. “The water is not clear like it used to be decades ago. Even at cheap prices, people refrain from buying this unhealthy fish and many of us hardly manage to sell anything”, Al-Habil added.

This had a detrimental effect on Al-Habil’s ability to continue fishing, forcing him to sell his wife’s jewelry, and take loans from relatives and other sources to buy a motorboat. Sadly, business did not improve. “It became a nightmare. I sank into pool of debts and am unable to make ends meet” Al Habil said

A livelihood destroyed

The head of Gaza’s Fishermen Association Nizar Ayyash says that “about 98 per cent” of Gaza fishermen fall below the poverty line. “UNRWA used to provide the Association with 1,000 three-month-job opportunities a year through its job creation programme,” he said.

Al-Habil was one of many beneficiaries who received employment opportunities through UNRWA’s Job Creation Programme (JCP). He now receives emergency food coupons from the Agency.

“In the 1990s, the Gaza fishing industry produced a considerable annual income, but things have gone downhill in recent years. Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Gaza’s fishermen were to be allowed 20 nautical miles for fishing, but they are only allowed six”, added Ayyash.

Al-Habil cannot see himself doing anything other than fishing, the trade he inherited from his ancestors. “I'm happy at sea, happy to be fishing, this is what I know, and what I am good at, if only there was something to catch. It is very depressing when I go home empty-handed,” he said.