Israel’s bombing is turning Gaza into a wasteland

Image: Ahmed Zakot/Shutterstock/ANP

December 18, 2023

Israel’s response to the October 7th brutal Hamas attacks not only inflicted massive human suffering from indiscriminate bombings, but also worsened the already dire humanitarian conditions, further jeopardizing livelihoods and ecosystems Palestinians in the Gaza Strip depend on.

A new report by PAX demonstrates how the massive use of explosive weapons in populated areas and rural communities also bring reverberating environmental health risks in the medium and long-term. Drawing on open-source research and data-sets from various researchers, the study identified key areas of destruction that pose acute health risks from exposure to a range of toxic and hazardous materials, exacerbate water insecurity, and are poised to have long-term impacts on groundwater and land-use.  The findings show three key areas of concern that warrants concern over additional public health risks.

Asbestos and other hazardous materials

The first is the massive destruction of buildings, both in urban and rural areas, which leaves millions of tons of rubble mixed with toxic materials such as asbestos and other hazardous pulverized building materials. This poses additional health problems for first-responders and civilians remaining in damaged areas through inhalation of fine dust and exposure to toxic materials, as shown by the lessons learned from past conflicts and disasters.  

Massive destruction of water infrastructure

The second area is the massive destruction of water infrastructure, depriving the civilian population of access to water for drinking, sanitation and health. Hundreds of water facilities, including desalination plants, water towers, wastewater treatment plants and water pumps, are damaged or destroyed. Raw sewage is flooding through the streets and worsening public health problems, while contaminating soil and water sources. The collapse of the governance system is resulting in the accumulation of thousands of tons of solid waste, which lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases. Lastly, bombardments, military movements and abandonment have affected over a quarter of all agricultural land, including orchards, crops and greenhouses that have been destroyed. This has deprived farmers of their livelihoods and is undermining food security in Gaza. 

Degraded groundwater and soil

The living and environmental conditions in Gaza were  in a deplorable state already prior to the current escalation of fighting, with their wide-spead impacts on the well-being of Palestinians. Decades of blockades, repeated bombings, crumbling governance, conflict-pollution and climate change came along with degrading effects on groundwater and soil, according to a 2020 UN study. Water resources had been facing serious challenges from overuse, pollution and salinisation caused by rising sea-levels, worsening the living conditions in Gaza.  

The current military campaign by Israel, with an unprecedented level of human loss and urban destruction, is exacerbating these pre-existing challenges. The widespread damage to housing, critical infrastructure and agricultural areas will leave a hazardous legacy of conflict-rubble, toxic waste and degraded natural resources, depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestians from returning and rebuilding their land.  

PAX calls for an immediate ceasefire, and urges the international community to condemn war crimes and act accordingly and to already commit  expertise and resources to mapping urban and rural damages, destruction of critical infrastructure, and identifying the reverberating impacts on public health and environment. This is essential for rapid and effective clean-up and remediation efforts, as well as for sustainable reconstruction after this devastating military campaign to allow Palestinians in Gaza to restore their lives and livelihoods.

Read the full report

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