How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East

Special How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East
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The Gaza war has contributed to increased air and water pollution and the degradation of ecosystems, say experts. (AFP/File)
Special How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East
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Smoke plumes billow after Israeli bombardment over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 20, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Special How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East
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Fire and smoke erupt after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 14, 2023. (AFP/File)
Special How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East
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A general view shows the destruction in the area surrounding Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after intense Israeli bombardment. (AFP)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East

How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East
  • Experts say the conflict has contributed to increased air and water pollution and the degradation of ecosystems
  • The destruction of densely populated urban areas has profound consequences for human health and the environment

DUBAI: Wars devastate lives, economies, and infrastructure, but what is often overlooked is the lasting damage they cause to the environment in the form of emissions, pollutants, and the destruction of habitats. The war in Gaza has been no exception. 

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, the Gaza Strip has come under intense Israeli bombardment, pulverizing buildings, demolishing sanitation services, lacing the earth with explosive remnants, and leaving the air thick with smoke and powdered concrete.




Palestinians flee their homes amid Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. (AFP/File)

Although almost 33,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 75,000 injured, according to the Gaza health ministry, by the bombardment, many doubt a ceasefire agreement will be reached soon, as Israel appears determined to press on into Rafah.

What is more certain is that whenever and however the conflict ends, any postwar government in Gaza will have its work cut out restoring the local environment and dealing with the long-term damage.

“Climate action is inextricably linked to lasting peace progress,” Rana Hajirasouli, founder and CEO of The Surpluss, a Dubai-based global climate tech platform, told Arab News.

“Understanding the critical link between environmental harm and the current structures of governance, power, and sovereignty should take precedence in climate policy to ensure peace and stability.”

The destruction wrought on Gaza by Israel’s military campaign has intensified existing environmental challenges in the region, from increased air and water pollution to the degradation of ecosystems

According to a study conducted by Queen Mary University of London, Lancaster University, and the Climate and Community Project, the carbon footprint created in the first 60 days of the war alone surpassed the annual emissions of 20 small countries.

Published by the Social Science Research Network on Jan. 9, the paper, titled “A multitemporal snapshot of greenhouse gas emissions from the Israel-Gaza conflict,” found the impact of the war was comparable to burning at least 150,000 tonnes of coal.

Much of this was generated by Israeli fighter jets during bombing raids and by armored vehicles used in the ground invasion. Other contributors were the US military, flying supplies to Israel. Less than 1 percent of the emissions were caused by Hamas rockets. 

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Responding to the study’s findings, Hajirasouli said: “This does not include indirect emissions such as energy-intensive production of military equipment, infrastructure construction, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.” 

Moreover, there is evidence that the destruction of densely populated urban areas has profound consequences for both human health and the environment.

Fires caused by airstrikes, particularly those that pulverize building materials, release a range of harmful emissions and air pollutants, including asbestos, said Hajirasouli.




Fire and smoke erupt after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 14, 2023. (AFP/File)

These emissions have lasting effects on the environment and exacerbate respiratory illnesses, posing a significant threat to public health.

Often the weapons themselves pollute the air and soil. “Highly incendiary white phosphorus leaves behind a trail of chemicals in its wake,” said Hajirasouli. The accumulation of phosphoric acid released by this weapon depletes soil fertility, exacerbates erosion, and harms agriculture, she added.

Around 339 hectares of greenhouses, crucial for growing various crops, have been destroyed, many of them in Gaza City, North Gaza, and Khan Younis. 

The war has also severely disrupted the harvesting of olives and citrus fruits, which serve as vital sources of income for many in Gaza.




Palestinian farmers gather guavas at the start of the annual harvest season in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 15, 2022. (AFP/File)

Maurizio Martina, deputy director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, highlighted the impact of the war on Gaza’s agriculture during a UN Security Council meeting in February on the protection of civilians amid armed conflicts.

Agriculture, he said, is a “critical source of sustenance and income” for Gazans, as is the fishing industry, which provides an income to some 100,000 individuals. 

Martina also highlighted the death of livestock under airstrikes and as a result of shortages of water and fodder. As of Feb. 15, almost half of Gaza’s arable land had sustained damage, with sheep and dairy farms among the hardest hit.




The destruction of Gaza's arable lands and wells, aggravated by environmental pollution from Israeli bombs and the subsequent fires caused, also threaten animal production in the Palestinian enclave. (AFP/File)

He also said more than 25 percent of wells have been destroyed, significantly impacting the availability of water in North Gaza and Gaza City.

According to Hajirasouli, Gaza’s groundwater, of which 95 percent has been deemed undrinkable due to contamination with wastewater and seawater, is almost completely depleted.

“A lack of access to clean water heightens the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, in addition to creating fertile ground for the rapid spread of diseases,” she said.




Sewage left untreated as a result of the war in Gaza is not only causing environmental damage but also creating conditions for a health crisis. (AFP/File)

The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates more than 130,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage was released into the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza each day in October, not only causing environmental damage but also creating conditions for a health crisis.

Meanwhile, the loss of vegetation amid the fighting has limited the land’s capacity to sequester carbon, further contributing to climate change, said Hajirasouli.

“A growing population coupled with shrinking farmlands contribute to catastrophic hunger,” she said, emphasizing the UN’s recent announcement that 80 percent of those experiencing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide are Gazan.

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• Since October last year, waste management facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and power has been cut or interrupted in Gaza.

• At least 100,000 cubic meters of sewage and wastewater are being dumped daily onto land in Gaza or into the Mediterranean Sea (UNEP).

• Solid waste is being dumped in informal sites, where hazardous substances can leach into the porous soil, and potentially into the aquifer, Gaza’s main source of water.

• Total quantity of debris generated by wartime destruction in Gaza amounted to 22.9 million tons as of Jan. 7 (UNEP).

• Burning of solid waste in open fires in Gaza releases hazardous gases and particulate pollutants into the air.

According to aid agencies, approximately half a million people in Gaza are on the brink of starvation, while 2.3 million are dealing with acute food shortages. 

Carl Skau, the deputy head of UN aid coordination, has warned that famine is “almost inevitable” unless there is an immediate and substantial increase in aid efforts. And yet, the FAO has highlighted continued constraints on the flow of aid deliveries into Gaza, hampering effective humanitarian efforts.

“A critical priority is to restore safe and sustained humanitarian access throughout the Gaza Strip and to all those in need of lifesaving assistance,” Martina told the UN Security Council last month. 

He called for the restoration of basic services such as cross-border water pipelines, telecommunications, electricity distribution, and health facilities.

Even when the fighting eventually stops, postwar reconstruction is likely to be another significant contributor to emissions.

According to estimates reported in the Social Science Research Network study, the carbon cost of reconstructing Gaza’s 100,000 damaged buildings using modern construction methods will result in the emission of at least 30 million metric tonnes of warming gases. 




A general view shows the destruction in the area surrounding Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after intense Israeli bombardment. (AFP)

This is comparable to the annual CO2 emissions of New Zealand and surpasses the emissions of 135 other countries and territories, including Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Uruguay.

Hajirasouli added: “Whilst the long-term impacts on the climate will undoubtedly remain due to potent greenhouse gas emissions, many around the world will also feel the impact of its consequences.” 

What is perhaps most striking is that Israelis and Palestinians — despite their decades-old animosity — face the same common threats from climate change and environmental degradation.

The World Bank’s Country Climate and Development Report for the West Bank and Gaza, published in December, highlighted the borderless nature of climate change and showed that the environment shared by Palestinians and Israelis is intertwined.

“Left unaddressed or tackled only by one side, the negative impacts of climate change will spill across borders and impacts on both Palestinian and Israeli lives and livelihood,” the report added.
 

 


Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation
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Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

WASHINGTON: Three US troops suffered non-combat injuries in the effort to make a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza into a conduit for humanitarian aid, with one in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, US officials said on Thursday.

The injuries were the first for US forces during the latest operation to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation last week.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of US Central Command, told reporters that two of the troops had a sprained ankle and a minor back injury.

“Two were very minor, routine injuries. Those individuals returned to duty,” Cooper said.

A third service member, injured on a ship at sea, was medically evacuated to a hospital in Israel, he said. A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the individual was in critical condition.

US lawmakers have voiced concern about the risks to positioning US troops off the coast of Gaza. Biden has said they will not step foot in the war-torn city itself.

The Pentagon has said it will prioritize the safety of US military personnel.

“We’re clear eyed and we continue to look at force protection all day, every day and as it stands now we assess the operations can continue,” Cooper said.

Social media images showed a US air defense system, known as the Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (CRAM), firing into the sky while on the pier. US officials said troops were testing the system.

Daniel Dieckhaus of the US Agency for International Development said that since the pier opened last week, about 506 metric tons of aid had been handed off to humanitarian groups inside Gaza. About a third of that has not yet been distributed but would be soon, he said.


Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day
Updated 23 May 2024
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Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

GAZA STRIP: A senior official at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza said it was under Israeli military siege for a fifth straight day on Thursday after soldiers stormed it the previous day.

“We are still under siege for the fifth day in a row,” said the hospital’s acting director, Dr. Mohammed Saleh.

“Soldiers are present in the hospital’s courtyard and nearby houses,” he said, adding that there was “continuous gunfire and shelling” toward it.

Troops stormed the hospital building on Wednesday evening, he said.

“The hospital was stormed, and staff were forced to leave. I currently have only 13 staff, 11 patients, and two women accompanying wounded children,” Saleh said.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X that 140 staff, patients, and accompanying adults were inside the hospital when troops stormed it.

The WHO visited Al-Awda regularly in April to deliver medical supplies and fuel, but on Tuesday Ghebreyesus said snipers were targeting the building and artillery had hit the fifth floor.

On Tuesday, patients and staff were also evacuated from another hospital in northern Gaza, Kamal Adwan, its director, Dr. Hossam Abu Safia, said at the time.

“These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza. Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative,” Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

Israeli troops have previously raided other medical facilities in Gaza, including Al-Shifa in Gaza City, the territory’s largest hospital, which was reduced to rubble after an operation in March, the WHO said.


Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
Updated 23 May 2024
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Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
  • King meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin 

RIYADH: Bahrain’s King Hamad said his country was looking forward to improving its relations with Iran during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
The king added that there was no reason for Bahrain to postpone the resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Thursday.
The king and Putin discussed the war in Gaza, regional and international efforts aimed at reaching a ceasefire, and the release of hostages and detainees. They also focused on providing humanitarian aid without obstacles to the territory’s civilian population.
They highlighted the importance of advancing the course of diplomatic action to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and achieving a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The leaders also said efforts to recognize the Palestinian state and accept it as a permanent member of the UN should be supported.
They also stressed the importance of the UN Security Council assuming its responsibilities toward resolving and ending global conflicts, and working to settle them in accordance with the rules of international law and the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security.
The king informed the Russian president of the outcomes of the Arab Summit held recently in Bahrain, adding that Arab countries appreciated Russia’s sympathy for just Arab causes.
The king and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the convening of an international conference at the summit, which would take place under the auspices of the UN, to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state solution.
The king added that he hoped to host the conference and requested Russia’s support for it.


Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state
Updated 23 May 2024
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Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state
  • The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state
  • Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed”

CAIRO: The Arab Parliament has welcomed a decision by the governments of Spain, Norway and Ireland to recognize the state of Palestine.
The prime ministers of the three countries said on Wednesday that they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28.
All three said they hoped the decision would accelerate efforts toward securing a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its eighth month.
The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state.
It said the decision was a “new victory for the Palestinian cause and Palestinian diplomacy,” and an important step toward recognition by many countries worldwide.
The parliament said the recognition supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent state with the city of Jerusalem as its capital.
It said that the announcements come at a time when Israel is working to destroy the Palestinian cause through “ethnic cleansing and forced displacement against civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, against whom war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed.”
Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed,” it added.
The parliament called on countries that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine to take a step toward “ending the historical injustice to which the Palestinian people have been exposed for decades of occupation and per the internationally recognized two-state solution based on international legitimacy resolutions.”
It called on the international community and all countries to stand with the Palestinian people and their just cause.
Ireland has said it will upgrade its representative office in the West Bank to a full embassy, while the Palestinian mission in Ireland will also be offered full embassy status.


Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed

Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed
Updated 23 May 2024
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Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed

Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed
  • The Egyptians’ defense team had argued that the nine were not crew members of the ill-fated trawler
  • Eight of the nine were released from a jail outside the southern city of Nafplio on Wednesday evening

NAFPLIO, Greece: A group of Egyptians jailed for nearly a year pending trial for a deadly shipwreck were released from jail Wednesday, a day after a Greek court threw out the case against them on grounds that it had no jurisdiction to try it.
Nine Egyptians had been charged with being part of the crew of the Adriana, a massively overcrowded trawler that capsized and sank near Greece last June with an estimated 700 people on board while sailing from Libya to Italy. Only 104 people survived – all men, mostly from Syria, Egypt and Pakistan — and 82 bodies were recovered.
The nine, who have been in pretrial custody since their rescue last year, had been charged with being members of a migrant smuggling ring and were accused of having caused the shipwreck. They had faced several life sentences if convicted.
But a court in the southern Greek city of Kalamata on Tuesday ruled it had no jurisdiction to try the case, as the shipwreck occurred in international waters, none of those involved had been trying to enter Greece, the ship was not Greek flagged and no Greek citizens were on board.
The Egyptians’ defense team had argued that the nine were not crew members of the ill-fated trawler but had been paying passengers who were mistakenly identified as crew by nine other survivors, and that they were being used as scapegoats by authorities eager to put all the blame for the tragedy on the trawler’s crew.
Eight of the nine were released from a jail outside the southern city of Nafplio on Wednesday evening. They were transferred to a police station in the city, where they were to remain in custody overnight pending further procedures. It was not immediately clear when they would be fully released from custody.
The ninth defendant was to be released from a different jail.
The massive loss of life in the sinking of the Adriana in the early hours of June 14, 2023, renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent. The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, driven largely by arrivals by sea.
The exact circumstances of how the Adriana sank remain unclear. The trawler was sailing in international waters but within Greece’s search and rescue area of operations, and a coast guard patrol boat and passing merchant ships were near the vessel for several hours. Greek authorities have said the trawler’s crew repeatedly refused offers of help, insisting it wanted to continue to Italy.
Several survivors have said the boat capsized after the Greek coast guard attempted to tow it, an accusation Greek authorities have vehemently denied. A Naval Court investigation into the sinking is still underway.
Speaking at the courthouse after the case was dismissed on Tuesday, Dimitris Choulis, one of the lawyers in the defense team for the nine Egyptians, said attention should turn to how the Adriana sank.
“The court today had to be very brave to issue this decision, and to say that these people are not the smugglers,” Choulis said.
The lawyer blamed the tragedy on the Greek coast guard and Europe’s migration policies, and said it was essential to “make sure that nothing like that would happen again.”