UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

GENEVA: The conflict in Gaza has caused unprecedented soil, water and air pollution in the region, destroyed sanitation systems and left tons of remnants of explosive devices, a UN report on the impact of war on the environment said on Tuesday.

The war between Israel and Hamas has quickly reversed limited progress in improving the region’s desalination and wastewater treatment facilities, restoring the Wadi Gaza coastal wetland and investing in solar power plants, according to a preliminary assessment by the UN Environment Program, or UNEP.
Explosive weapons generated about 39 million tons of waste, the report said.

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UNEP is mandated to assist countries in reducing and controlling pollution in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.

Every square meter of the Gaza Strip is now littered with more than 107 kg of waste. The report states that this is more than five times the amount of debris generated during the 2017 battle for Mosul, Iraq.
“All of this is seriously harming people’s health, food security and Gaza’s resilience,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
Gaza’s environment was already suffering from repeated conflicts, rapid urban growth and high population density before the latest conflict began on 7 October. The UN assessment raises concerns about the developing humanitarian crisis and environmental costs of the war, with Ukraine also recording extensive ecological damage over the past two years.
“Understanding the environmental impacts of war is the great challenge of our time,” said Eoghan Darbyshire, a senior researcher at the UK-based non-profit Conflict and Environment Observatory.
“Effects will not only be felt locally where the fighting is taking place, but can be shifted or even felt globally through greenhouse gas emissions.”
The UN assessment stems from a request by the Palestinian Authority for Environmental Quality in December 2023 for UNEP to assess the environmental damage. UNEP is mandated to assist countries in reducing and controlling pollution in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.
Because of security concerns and access restrictions, the UN used remote sensing surveys, data from Palestinian technical entities and World Bank damage assessments in its report.
Ground measurements, however, would be key to understanding the extent of soil and water contamination, Darbyshire said.
The report notes that water, sanitation and hygiene systems are almost completely non-functional, and five sewage treatment plants in Gaza are closed. Israel’s long-term occupation has already caused major environmental challenges in the Palestinian territories regarding water quality and availability, according to a 2020 report by the UN Development Programme.
At the time, more than 92 percent of the water in the Gaza Strip was deemed unfit for human consumption.
The Gaza Strip had one of the highest densities of rooftop solar panels in the world, with the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies estimating that by 2023 there will be around 12,400 rooftop solar systems.
But Israel has since destroyed much of Gaza’s growing solar infrastructure, and broken panels can cause lead and heavy metals to leak into the ground.
Since a week-long ceasefire in November, repeated attempts to agree a ceasefire have failed.
Looking at the scale of the environmental destruction, “I don’t think large areas of Gaza will be restored to a safe state in a generation, even with unlimited finance and will,” Darbyshire said.

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