GAZA CITY, 30 April 2009 (IRIN) — Unexploded ordnance (UXO) and the uncontrolled dumping of rubbish pose the greatest environmental and public health risks to residents of the Gaza Strip, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP). A further study is planned by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Increased discharges of raw sewage, the contamination of ground and drinking water, polluted agricultural fields, and other environmental effects stemming largely from the recent 23-day Israeli offensive in Gaza will be the focus of an upcoming UNEP assessment to be conducted by a team of eight experts in May.
Assessment results are expected by early July.
‘Contamination of water and land, and the handling of hazardous waste and rubble are the most pressing issues [in Gaza],’ said UNDP environmental officer Husam Tubail.
Hazardous waste includes waste from healthcare facilities, asbestos, and other material mixed up with the rubble. It also includes UXO, said Tubail.
About 600,000 metric tons (mt) of rubble resulted from the bombardments — and some of this is mixed with asbestos, as most homes in refugee camps were built of concrete and asbestos, said Gaza environment quality authority chairman Yusuf al-Ghuraiz.
‘Asbestos fibers are fine and when inhaled they enter the lung tissue, causing cancer,’ said Gaza environment quality authority engineer Ibrahim Abdulla.
‘Many houses in my neighborhood that were destroyed contained asbestos,’ said Makram Hanoun from the A’ Tufa area of Gaza City. ‘I fear my children’s health is at risk from the toxic fumes.’