For a few Gazans, a trip to a chalet offers an alternative to the heavily polluted seaside

A partial view of a beach along Gaza City in the Palestinian coastal enclave. (AFP)
Updated 15 July 2019

For a few Gazans, a trip to a chalet offers an alternative to the heavily polluted seaside

  • The pollution poses a serious danger to the health of Gazans because contaminated water contains bacteria, fungi

GAZA CITY: During the summer, middle-class Palestinians in the Gaza Strip head for chalets and swimming pools for a short break, rather that the seaside. The prospect of a trip to the beach is not so attractive when the waters are heavily polluted after years of raw, untreated sewage being pumped into the sea.

Demand for the chalets has been growing since that start of the siege that was imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2007, and has increased particularly sharply in the past few years as a result of the total pollution of more than 60 percent of the waters along the coast and the partial pollution of the rest, extending to about 40 kilometers offshore.

While the chalets offer relatively better-off Gazans the chance to avoid the polluted sea, the majority — who rely on relief aid to survive, as a result of high levels of poverty and unemployment — are not so lucky. For them, swimming in the filthy waters is the only option if they want a break.

Ibrahim Abu Dibaa work worked as a beach lifeguard for several years and loved it, but gave it up five years ago over fears of disease from the pollution. 

Unofficial estimates suggest that hospitals in the Gaza Strip treat dozens of people daily, children in particular, for intestinal infections and skin diseases caused by swimming in contaminated sea water.

Dibaa said he takes his family on a one-day chalet vacation so his children can play and swim safely.

“I have a lot of memories with the sea, and when I see it like this I almost cry and I deeply grieve for the thousands of Gazans who have no alternative to the sea, despite the danger of swimming in it,” he said.

Khaled Altibi, the head of the water-treatment department at the Ministry of Health, said the latest statistics, from April, revealed that 62 percent of the sea around Gaza is polluted. He added that this is better than the same time last year, as a result of efforts to ensure wastewater treatment plants can operate for longer periods.

FASTFACT

While the chalets offer relatively better-off Gazans the chance to avoid the polluted sea, the majority are not so lucky. For them, swimming in the filthy waters is the only option if they want a break.

Altibi said that pollution poses a serious danger to the health of Gazans because contaminated water contains bacteria, fungi and viruses contain or cause diseases that can be transmitted to humans easily.

Mohammed Dawoud knows this only too well. He said his family went to a section of the shore at Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, that was supposedly safe according to a map issued by the authorities. However, his 9-year-old daughter, Alia, subsequently fell ill with fever, severe diarrhea and red blisters on her body. When he took her to a hospital, medics told him she was suffering from intestinal disease caused by swimming in and swallowing sea water contaminated by sewage. As a result, Dawoud is boycotting the sea.

“I will never risk my family and my children again,” he said. “Health is more important than the sea. If I have to swim I will go to a private swimming pool.”

Ali Abu Hajjar does not have the money to go to a private pool instead of the sea. Instead, he wants to take with his family to a seaside area believed to be largely safe north of Rafah, which was an Israeli settlement before the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

He is government employee who is only being paid 40 percent of his salary because of the financial crisis in Gaza. He said that the cost of hiring a chalet for a day or a night is about 350 shekels ($100), which is equivalent to about a third of his monthly salary. A few years ago, the cost of a chalet was up to $ 250, but the economic situation as forced the prices down.

Heba Abu Hamad and 12 of her friends decided to share the costs and take their children on a group trip to chalets during the summer instead of going to the seaside.

“These collective group trips, in which we share the financial cost, make them available several times during the summer without burdening us under difficult economic conditions,” she said. Such group trips cost about 50 shekels, depending on numbers.

Chalet owner Mohamed Sobh said he tries to keep his prices are affordable. They range from about $100 to $120, slightly higher on Thursdays and Fridays, and vary depending on the length of the booking and whether people stay during the night or day.

He noted that many people are joining with friends to take advantage of lower-cost group bookings.

Salah Abu Hasira, the head of the Palestinian Authority for Restaurants and Tourist Services, said there are about 300 holiday chalets in the Gaza Strip, and competition is high during the summer season to attract people who want to avoid the pollution of the sea and the difficulties that come with trying to travel to other countries. He added that the chalets have become a common “respite” for those with the financial ability to rent them.

“The spread of chalets and investment pools in Gaza is a natural phenomenon,” said Hamed Jad, economic editor of Al-Ayyam newspaper, as a result of the Israeli siege, the inability of many people to travel further afield, as well a desire to avoid the polluted sea.


Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oil fields

Updated 2 min 43 sec ago

Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oil fields

  • Basra saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oil field

BAGHDAD: Anti-government demonstrators in southern Iraq shut roads to two major ports and a key oil field Wednesday, port officials and AFP correspondents said, leading to a brief operational halt.
Correspondent in oil-rich Basra province saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oil field.
Trucks waiting to load up goods from the ports could be seen waiting empty behind crowds of demonstrators.
Khor Al-Zubair is used for some heavy crude exports but also to import fuel products like benzene, while Umm Qasr is the main entry point for food and medicine into Iraq.
“Export and import activities have stopped because trucks cannot enter Khor Al-Zubair or Umm Qasr ports,” one official at Basra’s port authority said.
A second official later said the route to Khor Al-Zubair had been reopened but Umm Qasr remained shut.
Sit-ins have become a go-to tactic for Iraqis demonstrating against their government since early October.
Protesters have shut the road to Umm Qasr several times, causing a delay in offloading operations that on one occasion forced around a dozen ships to unload their cargo in another country.
Road closures have also impacted heavy crude from the Qayyarah field in northern Iraq from reaching Khor Al-Zubair since earlier this month.
The prime minister’s office has warned security forces “will not allow” protesters near key infrastructure, and riot police have forced roads open in deadly crackdowns.
More than 330 people have been killed since rallies erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across the south.
In the capital’s main protest camp of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, thousands gathered Wednesday to express their ongoing frustration.
Top leaders and political parties have focused their efforts on hiring drives, more welfare and a new electoral law as immediate measures.
Parliament met late Tuesday to discuss a draft voting law that proposes downsizing the house from 329 seats to 251, shrinking districts and distributing votes according to a complex hybrid system.
But the United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the draft law needed more work.
“The draft electoral legislation — currently under review by the Council of Representatives — requires improvements to meet public demands,” it said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert urged lawmakers to pass legislation that “will reflect the public appetite for a new and different way of conducting politics.”
Protesters have so far been unimpressed by the government’s proposals and large crowds — most of them students — turned out on Wednesday.
“Last night’s session serves their own interests, not those of the people,” said Younes, a 28-year-old protester.
Crowds have spilled over from Tahrir onto three main bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris, where key government buildings and embassies are based.
On Tuesday night, they tried to cross two of the bridges to reach the so-called Green Zone but security forces deployed on the bridges fired tear gas to keep them back, a security source told AFP.