Gaza child swimmer death highlights deadly pollution crisis

Gaza child swimmer death highlights deadly pollution crisis
3 min read
26 August, 2017
The death of a five-year-old boy after swimming off Gaza's coast highlights the deadly pollution crisis afflicting the besieged enclave.

The recent death of a five-year-old boy after swimming off Gaza's coast has highlighted the deadly pollution crisis afflicting the besieged enclave and the dire humanitarian impact of electricity shortages.

Mohammed al-Sayis, five, died late last month a few days after swimming in sewage-polluted waters off Gaza's coast, with his brothers hospitalised, his family said.

Dozens of others have been treated for illnesses after swimming in Gaza's Mediterranean coastline in the past two months, a health ministry spokesman in Gaza said.

Al-Sayis went swimming with his siblings in Sheikh Ijlin in southern Gaza after pressuring their father Ahmed to give them a breather from the summer heat.

"It's hot and humid and there is no power, water or fans in the house," said his devastated father Ahmed. "The sea is our only outlet."

The children played in the water for several hours, but they soon showed signs of sickness.

"When we returned home in the evening, I noticed that Mohammed and his brothers were very ill and their condition quickly deteriorated," he said.

The children were rushed to hospital but Mohammed died 10 days later, while the others eventually recovered.

According to the health ministry, his death was caused by poison ingested during the swim. 

Pollution in Gaza is not a new phenomenon, with a decade of a crippling Israeli blockade and three deadly Israeli offensives in six years destroying infrastructure in the territory.

A worsening dispute between Gaza's Hamas rulers and the Palestinian Authority has exacerbated the crisis, with the PA cutting energy supplies to Gaza in recent months.

The electricity shortage is so severe that all of Gaza's sewage treatment facilities have ground to a halt, meaning sewage previously cleaned and pumped further out to sea is being released along the coast line untreated.

At least 100,000 cubic metres of sewage is being pumped into the sea each day, according to the United Nations, which says more than two-thirds of the coastline is polluted.

Ahmed Halas, an official in the environment agency, told AFP all of Gaza's beaches are polluted to varying degrees and the health ministry advises against swimming altogether.

It has also spread beyond Gaza - last month a beach in southern Israel was temporarily closed after sewage from Gaza washed upstream.

Gaza's sea the only escape

With power supplies estimated at only four to six hours a day, Gazans head to the beach to escape the sweltering heat.

During the summer holidays hundreds of children play in the sea on an average day, with thousands flocking there on Fridays, the Muslim day of rest.

There are few public pools to cool down, while most houses have little water.

Around 95 percent of Gaza's groundwater is unsuitable for human consumption.

Yasser al-Shanti, head of the water authority in Gaza, told AFP that Gaza needed an extra 120 million litres of water a year.

Those who can afford it pay to keep their families cool.

"The water in the house is unsuitable for drinking or showering. The sea water is polluted and mixed with sewage," said Humam, 34, as he poured water on his four children from a filtered water truck.

Last month, the United Nations said Gaza is deteriorating "further and faster" than an earlier prediction made five years ago that said the enclave would become unliveable by 2020