oPt

OPT: Al Mezan issues a report on the environmental pollution and sanitation problems in Khan Younis

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On Monday 14 December 2009, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights published a report on 'Environment Pollution and Sanitation Problems in Khan Younis'. The report presents the serious water, health and environmental problems faced by the quarter million people living in Khan Younis town due to the exacerbating sanitation situation. The report calls for urgent actions to deal with these problems, which affect a wide array of human rights in Khan Younis, and threaten water and health in the entire southern Gaza Strip.

The report presents a background on the sanitation problems in Khan Younis. It examines the role played by the Israeli occupation in the problem, which is one of the outcomes of neglecting of the basic needs of the Gaza Strip towns during the 38 years of direct Israeli administration of the Strip between 1967 and 1994. Israel's administration had disregarded the needs of Khan Younis town for drainage and waste water systems. As a result people were left with one choice - to dig absorption holes in the ground; a problem that was shared by other towns in the Gaza Strip. This has contributed to the deterioration of the underground aquifer, which has reached a critical stage during 2009.

The report describes the efforts exerted by the Khan Younis Municipality and the authorities to install a proper sewage network and a sewage treatment plant, which could help stop the pollution and support the fresh underground water through using recycling water. For years now, Khan Younis town has suffered from acute shortages in fresh water due to Israeli policies that hindered all the planned projects to tackle this problem; including projects supported by international community.

The report warns about the dangers emanating from the sewage pools that have been created in the west Khan Younis town over the past few years, which are located on the aquifer and infiltrate it directly. It also highlights the consequences of the Israeli attacks on water and sanitation facilities, but particularly the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, which have caused serious human rights violations.

In a more recent development, the report states, two sewage pools were dug in Al Mawasi area; an agricultural area along Khan Younis beach, where the south Gaza aquifer is located. These pools were initially created to collect rain water in an effort to protect the residents of West Khan Younis from the frequent winter floods and re-inject the rain water directly into the aquifer; however, the lack of sanitation services pushed many people to connect their sewage to them. They have become a serious threat to the underground water and deprived the residents of the area from potable water.

The report highlights the role played by the Palestinian Authority and government bodies in confronting the challenges over the past few years. It tracks the steps which have been taken to decrease the impacts of pollution and contaminating the sources of water.

The report sets out recommendations to Palestinian authorities and international community. It recommends Palestinian authorities to:

- Urgently allocate funds to resolve the problem and coordinate with local and international relevant bodies to ensure successful implementation of the sewage network project in Khan Younis;

- Allocate funds to improve the water sources in the Gaza Strip;

- Conduct environmental impact assessments before starting any infrastructure or housing projects;

- Ensure proper consideration to the human rights impacts of any sanitation projects;

- Take all the necessary measures to prevent imminent environmental risks;

- Monitor the sanitation facilities and treatment plants and their impacts on the underground water;

- Combat the health problems created by open sewage pools;

- Conduct studies on the impacts on the public health and raise people's awareness about the risks and prevention; especially with regard to the health impacts on children who live near sanitation facilities;

- Provide assistance for the victims who have been affected by the sanitation projects;

- Improve the coordination and cooperation level between the local authorities and the NGOs working on the environment.

The report concludes that Israel's disregard of its legal obligations vis-à-vis civilians and natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt); Khan Younis being one example - represent the root causes of the water and sanitation problems. In addition to past negligence and recent military attacks, Israel's current siege has effectively foiled the efforts of the Palestinian authorities and international community to resolve these problems by preventing materials and equipment necessary for the construction or rehabilitation of sanitation facilities.

However, Palestinian authorities are also under the obligation to take effective measures and seek means and methods to resolve these problems and ensure due respect for human rights.

Al Mezan therefore calls for urgent intervention by international community to ensure that the construction works related to Khan Younis sanitation projects are finished as soon as possible. Al Mezan also calls on international donors to fund the sanitation project in Khan Younis, which is considered one of the most important project that have human rights and environmental impacts in Gaza.