May 3rd 2018

Gaza now has a toxic ‘biosphere of war’ that no one can escape

by Mark Zeitoun and Ghassan Abu Sitta

Mark Zeitoun is Professor of Water Security, University of East Anglia

Ghassan Abu Sitta is the Founder of Conflict Medicine Program, American University of Beirut

 

Gaza has often been invaded for its water. Every army leaving or entering the Sinai desert, whether Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, or the British, has sought relief there. But today the water of Gaza highlights a toxic situation that is spiralling out of control.

A combination of repeated Israeli attacks and the sealing of its borders by Israel and Egypt, have left the territory unable to process its water or waste. Every drop of water swallowed in Gaza, like every toilet flushed or antibiotic imbibed, returns to the environment in a degraded state.

When a hospital toilet is flushed, for instance, it seeps untreated through the sand into the aquifer. There it joins water laced with pesticides from farms, heavy metals from industry, and salt from the ocean. It is then pumped back up by municipal or private wells, joined with a small fraction of freshwater purchased from Israel, and cycled back into people’s taps. This results in widespread contamination and undrinkable drinking water, about 90% of which exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for salinity and chloride.

Incredibly, conditions are getting worse, thanks to the emergence of “superbugs”. These multi-drug resistant organisms have developed thanks to an over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors desperate to treat the victims of the seemingly endless assaults. The more injury there is, the more chance there is of re-injury. Less regular access to clean water means infections will spread faster, bugs will be stronger, more antibiotics will be prescribed – and the victims will be ever-more weakened.

The result is what has been termed a toxic ecology or “biosphere of war”, of which the noxious water cycle is just one part. A biosphere refers to the interaction of all living things with the natural resources that sustain them. The point is that sanctions, blockades and a permanent state of war affects everything that humans might require in order to thrive, as water becomes contaminated, air is polluted, soil loses its fertility and livestock succumb to diseases. People in Gaza who may have evaded bombs or sniper fire have no escape from the biosphere.

War surgeons, health anthropologists and water engineers – including ourselves – have observed this situation developing wherever protracted armed conflict or economic sanctions grind on, as with water systems in Basrah and health systems throughout Iraq or Syria. It’s now well past time to clean it up.

There is water – for some

It’s not as if there is no fresh water nearby to alleviate the situation in Gaza. Just a few hundred metres from the border are Israeli farms that use freshwater pumped from Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) to grow herbs destined for European supermarkets. As the lake is around 200km to the north and lies 200 metres below sea level, a massive amount of energy is used to pump all that water. The lake water is also fiercely contested by Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Palestinians in the West Bank, each of which is seeking their legal entitlement of the Jordan River basin.

Gaza City on one side of the border, Israeli farms on the other.

Google Maps

 

Meanwhile, Israel desalinates so much seawater these days that its municipalities are turning it down. Excess desalinated water is being used to irrigate crops, and the country’s water authority is even planning to use it to refill Tiberias itself – a bizarre and irrational cycle, considering the lake water continues to be pumped the other direction into the desert. There is now so much manufactured water that some Israeli engineers can declare that “today, no one in Israel experiences water scarcity”.

But the same cannot be said for Palestinians, especially not those in Gaza. People there have resorted to various ingenious filters, boilers, or under-the-sink or neighbourhood-level desalination units to treat their water. But these sources are unregulated, often full of germs, and just another reason children are prescribed antibiotics – thus continuing the pattern of injury and re-injury. Doctors, nurses, and water maintenance crews meanwhile try to do the impossible with the minimal medical equipment at their disposal.

The implications for all those who invest in Gaza’s repeatedly destroyed water and health projects are clear. Providing more ambulances or water tankers – the “truck and chuck” strategy – might work when conflicts are at their most acute, but they are never more than a band aid. Yes, things will get better in the short term, but soon enough Gaza will be onto the next generation of antibiotics, and dealing with teflon-coated superbugs.

Donors must instead design programmes suited to the all-pervasive and incessant biosphere of war. This means training many more doctors and nurses, providing more medicines, and infrastructure support for health and water services. More importantly, donors should build-in political “cover” to protect their investments (if not the local children), perhaps by calling for those who destroy the infrastructure to foot the bill for repairs.

And there is an even bigger message for the rest of us. Our research shows that war is more than simply armies and geopolitics – it extends across entire ecosystems. If the dehumanising ideology behind the conflict was confronted, and if excess water was diverted to people rather than to lakes, then the easily avoidable repeated injuries suffered by people in Gaza would become a thing of the past. Palestinians would soon find their biosphere a whole lot healthier.

 

Mark Zeitoun, Professor of Water Security, University of East Anglia and Ghassan Abu Sitta, Founder, Conflict Medicine Program, American University of Beirut

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Aug 15th 2018
Why do conspiracy theories and general charlatanism so often receive their strongest support from the world’s dictators? Sure, dictators are almost always oddballs themselves, but that cannot be all there is to it. In fact, it is worth asking whether quackery is a necessary feature of authoritarian rule.
Aug 15th 2018
Across the global economy, the potential for automation seems huge. Adidas’ “Speedfactory” in Bavaria will employ 160 workers to produce 500,000 pairs of shoes each year, a productivity rate over five times higher than in typical factories today. The British Retail Consortium estimates that retail jobs could fall from three million to 2.1 million within ten years, with only a small fraction replaced by new jobs in online retailing. Many financial-services companies see the potential to cut information-processing jobs to a small fraction of current levels. And yet, despite all this, measured productivity growth across the developed economies has slowed. One possible explanation.....
Aug 11th 2018
US President Donald Trump’s erratic unilateralism represents nothing less than abdication of global economic and political leadership. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, his rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, his tariff war, and his frequent attacks on allies and embrace of adversaries have rapidly turned the United States into an unreliable partner in upholding the international order. But the administration’s “America First” policies have done more than disqualify the US from global leadership. They have also created space for other countries to re-shape the international system to their liking. The influence of China, in particular, is likely to be enhanced.
Aug 9th 2018
Wall Street is full of turnaround talk following Tesla’s second-quarter earnings results, sending shares in the futuristic electric car pioneer up almost 10%. Investors welcomed news that the company was burning through cash at a lower rate and revenues were considerably higher, yet the results also showed that Tesla’s financial and operational weaknesses have not gone away. From my reading of the figures, this is a company in real trouble.
Aug 1st 2018
By seeking to disrupt virtually all that has defined the West since the end of World War II, Trump has brought the world to a historical turning point. At stake is not the US-EU relationship, which remains strong, but rather the West’s dominant position on the world stage. Trump is accelerating a shift in the global balance of power that will leave both America and Europe weaker in relative terms. As income and wealth shift from the West to the East, China will increasingly be able to challenge the US as the world’s leading geopolitical, economic, and technological power.
Jul 28th 2018
Alarming stories about the diabetes epidemic that threatens millions of lives have become commonplace, and with good reason.......The link between cheap, sugary and fatty food and obesity and type 2 diabetes is indisputable. The healthy/unhealthy food cost ratio has to change because the evidence is that education – while valuable – is not enough by itself. The evidence from many countries shows that in most chronic, lifestyle-related diseases, legislation is faster and often more effective.
Jul 28th 2018

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed a new basic law which in the main enshrines “Israel [as] the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the State of Is

Jul 24th 2018
This past week by a vote of 62 to 55, Israel's Knesset passed legislation called "Israel as a Nation-State of the Jewish People." Heralding the passage of the bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as "a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel...We have determined in law the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all its citizens." In reaction, Israeli hardliners and their supporters in the US celebrated the legislation as "clarifying", while more liberal voices lamented "the damage the bill does to the 'Zionist vision.'" This is one debate where I cannot take the side of the liberals because in reality, the "Jewish Nation-State" bill is in fact "clarifying" as it merely establishes in "Basic Law" practices and policies that Israel has been implementing since its founding.
Jul 23rd 2018
How does the current global economic outlook compare to that of a year ago? In 2017, the world economy was undergoing a synchronized expansion, with growth accelerating in both advanced economies and emerging markets. Moreover, despite stronger growth, inflation was tame – if not falling – even in economies like the United States, where goods and labor markets were tightening.
Jul 22nd 2018
While the US is busy slipping off of its precipice, many of its best known political figures are beating a rather tired old drum – the new Cold War, Russia, China, North Korea. It is boring, predictable, and dated. In the meantime, Russia and China are proceeding apace to reshape world order – without America.
Jul 21st 2018
Israel has for decades been running the occupied territories of Palestine–Gaza and the West Bank– with Apartheid tactics. As with black South Africans under Apartheid, most Palestinians have been deprived of citizenship in a real, recognized state. Their villages have been isolated by a network of what often amount to Jewish-only highways. They have trouble getting to hospital through checkpoints. Their territory in the West Bank is patrolled by the Israeli army, and the Israeli state is actively depriving them of their property and giving it to white squatters.
Jul 12th 2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Jul 12th 2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Jul 10th 2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Jul 10th 2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Jul 9th 2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Jul 9th 2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Jul 3rd 2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Jul 3rd 2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Jun 26th 2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally.