Sept 28th 09
Lift the Siege of Gaza
The water front in Gaza City is very inviting. The blue waters are set against blue skies and high temperatures. In April, when I spent two days in the region meeting political leaders, business people, health workers and citizens, I watched as people walked along the beach, some jogged, children played and fishermen braved Israeli gunboats to fish in the waters off-shore.
But the gun boats are not the only danger in the waters off Gaza.
The Mediterranean Sea presents a grave health risk to the citizens of Gaza and of Israel.
Each day between 13 and 21 million gallons of raw sewage or partially treated waste are pumped into the Mediterranean because of the inability of Gaza treatment plants and storage pools to deal with the demands place don them.
The Israeli siege means that the parts essential for repairs to the sewage and water treatment plants are not available and work on an internationally funded multi-million dollar waste treatment plant for northern Gaza has halted.
So, raw sewage floods into the Mediterranean out of Gaza and some of it finds its way into Israeli waters.
A July report by the World Health Organisation on the quality of Gaza’s seawater reported that seawater samples collected from April to June were found to be polluted with faecal bacteria.
WHO has warned that no one should be swimming within 2,000 metres of any sewage discharge pipes but life for Gazans means that many children play in waters only metres from such pipes.
In addition fish caught in the contaminated waters is widely distributed and poses a serious threat to human health.
Last week the UN and the international agencies, whose Herculean efforts sustain the bare essentials for Gazans, appealed to Israel to relax the siege to allow parts in to Gaza to repair the water and sewage system.
There has been no positive response from Israel.
Moreover, the overall situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate with each day.
Six months ago, when a Sinn Fein delegation visited Gaza the extent of the devastation wrought by Israel’s siege and its military assault during last December and January, was everywhere around us in the empty shells of bombed buildings.
One and a half million people – the population of the north – are cramped into a land area the size of County Louth. One million are refugees and dependent on aid. 60% are under 25. High levels of poverty and chronic unemployment are endemic. There is infrequent access to water and power, with the UN saying that around 60% of the population receive water only occasionally. Thousands have no housing and live in tents or the rubble of bombed buildings.
Billions of dollars were pledged for a rebuilding programme. The Israeli government has blocked this. Construction materials are prevented from entering Gaza by the Israeli government.
A Bombed ice-cream factory in Gaza
Many schools and hospitals were destroyed or damaged in the Israeli attack and people are dying from curable and treatable diseases because essential live-saving equipment is prevented from going to Gaza.
Last month United Nations Relief and Works Agency – UNRWA - the UN agency with responsibility for looking after Palestinian refugees, launched its Gaza Ramadan Appeal for $181 million to provide food, job creation and help to repair homes, schools and health facilities.
But UNRWA knows that the problems faced by the people of Gaza requires more than money raised by appeals of this kind. In its statement UNRWA said:
‘A generous response to this appeal will immediately mitigate the downward spiral of destitution and hopelessness facing many refugees as Ramadan approaches. However, this destitution and hopelessness can, and will only be, curtailed by lifting the siege on Gaza, opening borders in both directions, and allowing the freedom of movement of people.’
Ramadan is now over but the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not and will not be until the siege of that region by Israel is ended.
Me with the Aontroim team in the Falls Park last week as they trained for Sunday's game
On a completely different note readers will recall that last week this blog spent a very enjoyable Sunday at the All Ireland Football Final. This Sunday I successfully managed my schedule long enough to attend the Women’s Football Final.
I was especially looking forward to cheering on the Aontroim Women’s team.
Aontroim only began fielding teams in women’s football 6 years ago and in that time the sport has gone from strength to strength, with Aontroim winning the Ulster titles at all age groups.
On Sunday the team played its heart out and did Aontroim proud by becoming the All-Ireland champions.
Comhghairdeas to all concerned – the team, the management, the trainers and everyone who helped Aontroim achieve this.