The destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure is exacerbating environmental health impacts : Environmental Epidemiology

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The destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure is exacerbating environmental health impacts

Al-Hindi, Adnana,*; Aker, Amirab; Al-Delaimy, Wael K.c

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Environmental Epidemiology 6(1):p e186, February 2022. | DOI: 10.1097/EE9.0000000000000186
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In light of the Gaza protests surrounding the forced expulsions of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza, we highlight here the current dire health situation, in part, due to the repeated destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure and preexisting environmental degradation.

The latest disproportionate Israeli air strikes in May 2021 killed 222 people (including 63 children) and destroyed or damaged 450 buildings (including a building housing international media offices), six hospitals, nine primary health care centers, and the desalination plant that supplies clean water to 250,000 people.1 At least two prominent doctors, the internal medicine consultant Dr. Ayman Abu-Alouf who was leading the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) team at Al-Shifa Hospital and the neurologist Dr. Moeen Al-Aloul, were killed in their homes.2 Additionally, these attacks have rendered over 74,000 individuals internally displaced and homeless.1 Many sought refuge in the United Nations (UN)–run schools, but conditions were unsafe where deeply buried undetonated Israeli bombs were located in one of the UN schools.1

In the most recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on the State of Environment and Outlook Report for the occupied Palestinian territories published in 2020, international experts who had multiple site visits to gather the data for the report concluded that there were major environmental challenges in the territories, particularly regarding water quality and quantity for people in Gaza.3 It is important to note the undisputed responsibility of the Government of Israel as the occupying power to address environmental degradation impacting Palestinians4 and not increase this degradation through the destruction of infrastructure. Gaza is affected more than the West Bank; it is a highly population-dense (with more than 2 million residents) elongated zone situated on a coastal plain with an area of 362 km2.25 Prior to the 11-day Israeli bombing of Gaza was initiated on May 10, 2021, the Gazan was infrastructure was highly compromised.3,6 The 15-year economic blockade imposed on Gaza includes restrictions on the import of construction materials, equipment and fuel. This, in addition to the multiple rounds of conflict and violence, has led to electricity power cuts of up to 20 hours/day blackouts, impacting the daily lives of residents and the operation of hospitals and municipal services, including water and waste treatment.6 The lack of electricity has also led to 108,000 m3 of partially treated or untreated wastewater into the sea every day.3 The Coastal Aquifer, which is the main source of fresh water in Gaza, is overextracted to compensate for the water shortage and believed to be irreversibly damaged because of contamination from sewage and sea water leakage.7,8 As of 2018, over 92.6% of the groundwater was deemed unfit for human consumption, shifting the reliance of drinking water to trucked water, which is 15 to 20 times more expensive than water from the network,6,9 in which people spend up to 50% of their monthly budget on water compared with only 3.5% globally.10 Inflow of sewage into the sea and Coastal Aquifer has caused excess nitrate, nitrite, and chloride concentrations, resulting in nitrate concentrations of 300 mg/L, six-fold higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and less than 20% of drinking wells meeting the WHO standards.3 As a result, 26% of the diseases in Gaza were reported as water-related, with the most common diseases including acute bloody diarrhea, viral hepatitis, liver and kidney diseases, methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome), and anemia.3 Inadequate water quantity has led to increased incidences of water-washed skin and eye disease. High cancer incidence rates are another concern, particularly near agricultural areas with water supplies contaminated with phytosanitary byproducts.3

In addition to the high urbanization and rates of low socioeconomic status, climate change impacts are going to exacerbate this terrible and dire situation in Gaza given the rising temperatures, scarcity of water resources and precipitation, desertification and drought, and rising sea levels, all of which will disproportionately impact this region.11 The uprooting of thousands of trees in the occupied territories by Israeli forces for security reasons created barrier walls that disrupted an already vulnerable ecosystem.3 Major financial and infrastructure resources are needed to address climate change adaption and mitigation. Irrigation water decline, lower livestock production, decline in fisheries as a source of protein and employment, food insecurity, water-related diseases, flooding and poor waste management, and other climate change impacts will have direct and indirect health impacts on people in Gaza.3 They need support for climate-smart agriculture, alternative and sustainable water and energy resources, as well as prevention and monitoring of waterborne and foodborne diseases, sanitation, and improved waste collection systems.

The ongoing blockade by the Israeli government limits and prevents addressing the above measures to counter climate change and other environmental degradation in Gaza. The blockade restricts the movement of goods and food products into Gaza, resulting in few imported foods and increased agricultural pressure to provide for the most densely populated area in the region.3,4 This is in addition to the reduced farmlands after the large-scale destruction of orchards and farms by Israeli bombs.6 The burning of solid and electronic waste due to the lack of proper solid waste management systems has also led to excessive airborne releases of particulate matter, benzene, dioxins, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls.5 Results point to increased childhood lymphoma in regions nearby e-waste burn sites in the West Bank, but this has not been studied yet in Gaza.12

The preexisting crumbling infrastructure in Gaza, coupled with the current wave of displacement and homelessness is leading to a health crisis. There is a need to support the effort of the Palestinian occupied territories to be energy independent by relying on renewable energy to address impacts of power shortage on health care, allowing free flow of agricultural and water treatment equipment and material, building more water desalination stations to reverse the health impact of current poor water quality, implementing affordable grey water recycling equipment, and supporting aggressive policies to address climate change adaptation and mitigation, and most importantly, for the international community to hold the Israeli government accountable for withholding the above from the Gaza population and the repeated destruction of their infrastructure. Past and ongoing political and military conflicts do not justify the systematic punishment of the people of Gaza. A ceasefire has minimal impact so long as the blockade of Gaza persists, and any rebuild of Gaza faces further destruction every few years.1

Conflicts of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest with regard to the content of this report.


1. United Nations. Ceasefire can’t hide scale of destruction in Gaza, UN warns, as rights experts call for ICC probe. UN News. Published May 21, 2021. Available at: Accessed 30 October 2021.
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3. United Nations Development Programme. “State of Environment and Outlook Report for the occupied Palestinian territory 2020”. 2020.
4. UNCT. Common Country Analysis- Leave No One Behind: A Perspective on Vulnerability and Structural Disadvantage in Palestine. United Nations Country Team (UNCT). 2016. Available at: Accessed 28 October 2019.
5. ARIJ. Status of the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ); 2015:195. Available at: Accessed 28 October 2019.
6. UNCT. Gaza Ten Years Later. United Nations Country Team (UNCT); 2017. Available at: Accessed 28 October 2021.
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11. Al-Delaimy WK, Ramanathan V, Sánchez Sorondo M (eds). Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility. Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health. Springer; 2020.
12. Davis JM, Garb Y. A strong spatial association between e-waste burn sites and childhood lymphoma in the West Bank, Palestine. Int J Cancer. 2019;144:470–475.
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The Environmental Epidemiology. All rights reserved.