Gazans live next to rotting garbage and rodents

Via Yolande bell, BBC News, Jerusalem

BBC Asmahan stood with his three grandchildren in front of a huge pile of trashBBC

Asmahan al-Masri and 15 relatives live in a camp in Khan Younis, just a few steps from the trash pile

Across the Gaza Strip, in a landscape newly transformed by war, mountains of stinking trash pose serious health and environmental hazards.

“We never lived next to garbage before,” said Asmahan al-Masri, a displaced woman, originally from Beit Hanoun in the north, where her home is now wasteland in Khan Younis.

“I cried like many other grandmothers when I saw my grandchild sick and suffering from scabies. This is like a slow death. No self-esteem.”

According to the United Nations and humanitarian agencies working on sanitation, in eight months, it is estimated that more than 330,400 tons of solid waste have accumulated in Palestinian territory.

Sixteen members of the Masri family share a tent in a camp near al-Aqsa University filled with clouds of flies and sometimes snakes. Stray dogs may roam nearby in a menacing manner. All residents complained about the constant stench.

“The smell is very unpleasant. I opened the tent door to get some air but there was no air,” Asmahan said. “It’s just the smell of trash.”

Mohamed searched through the trash holding a white bag

Desperation across Gaza is forcing many people, like Mohamed, to search for something to eat, use or sell

Some of the more than a million people who recently fled Israel’s military offensive in the southern city of Rafah have been forced to live in empty areas that have been turned into makeshift landfills.

“We searched everywhere to find a suitable place, but we were 18 people along with our children and grandchildren,” said Ali Nasser, who recently moved to the al-Aqsa University camp from New York. and we couldn’t find anywhere else where we could be together.” His home is in Rafah.

“The journey here cost us more than 1,000 shekels ($268; £212) and now our finances are ruined. We have no job or income so we are forced to live in this miserable situation. We had constant vomiting, diarrhea and itchy skin.”

Close-up of Asmahan standing in front of a pile of trash

“There was no air, just the smell of garbage,” Asmahan said.

Before the war, years of blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, severely strained basic services, such as waste disposal.

Tight restrictions that Israel says for security reasons on what can enter the territory mean there are not enough garbage trucks, and there is a lack of equipment to sort and recycle household waste and treat it. dispose of properly.

Since the deadly Hamas-led attacks on October 7, the Israeli army has blocked access to the border area where Gaza’s two main landfills are located. One facility in Juhr al-Dik previously served the north and another in al-Fukhari served the central and southern regions.

Sam Rose, director of planning at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, said: “We are seeing a crisis in waste management in Gaza and it has gotten much worse. a lot in the past few months.

Getty Images Palestinian boy walks next to a sewage tank with trash inside in Rafah on April 26, 2024beautiful images

Gazans face the risk of illness as wastewater accumulates near makeshift shelters

Social media footage compiled by BBC Verify shows makeshift landfills growing as people evacuate in waves to different towns and cities. BBC Verify authenticated these locations in Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah between February and June this year.

BBC Verify’s satellite analysis previously shed light on another aspect of the sanitation problem, showing that half of Gaza’s water and wastewater treatment sites have been damaged or destroyed since Israel’s capture. initiated military action against Hamas.

“You see huge puddles of grey-brown mud around where people are living because they have no other choice, and you see huge piles of trash. Either this is left outside people’s homes or in some places people are forced to move closer to temporary landfills that have been set up,” Mr. Rose said.

“People are literally living among garbage.”

The mass displacement of people has left local authorities with facilities damaged by ongoing Israeli bombardment. They complained about the lack of staff, equipment, garbage trucks as well as fuel to operate them.

In the Khan Younis municipality, an official, Omar Matar, expressed regret over the appalling conditions for those currently living near al-Aqsa University.

“These random landfills do not meet health and environmental standards. They do not prevent the spread of odors, insects and rodents,” he said.

“They were previously created as an emergency measure due to the closure of the Sofa landfill [at al-Fukhari]until a solution is found with international organizations to transport the waste there,” he explained.

A spokesman for Israel’s military agency, Cogat, told me that they are considering a number of different solutions to the waste problem in Gaza.

Piles of trash in front of tents and makeshift buildings in al-Aqsa

The campus of Gaza’s al-Aqsa University has been turned into a makeshift landfill in Khan Younis

The United Nations Development Program said it recently collected 47,000 tons of waste from central and southern Gaza and distributed 80,000 liters of fuel to the clean-up effort. But there’s more to be done.

Now, as summer temperatures soar, aid agencies are issuing new warnings about the health hazards caused by too much waste.

Yet desperation drives many Gazans to take additional risks: searching for something to eat, use or sell.

“We are used to this smell. Every day we come here together to look for cardboard boxes and other things that we can burn to make a fire,” said Mohammed, one of the boys picking up trash at a landfill near Deir al-Balah. speak. botched and rudimentary efforts to clear sites hit by Israeli airstrikes.

Mazad Abu Mila, a displaced man from Beit Lahia, said he was looking for scrap metal that he could use to build a furnace.

“We left behind all our money, shops, cars, livestock, houses. All is left. This is the most dangerous thing for our health. I had never been to the landfill before but now, everyone is coming here.”

Additional reporting from BBC Verify’s Paul Brown and Richard Irvine Brown

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