Gaza threatened by plague and deadly disease as garbage fills streets
As the Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip continues for the fourth month in a row, garbage is piling up along streets and public places. There are growing fears of the spread of deadly diseases and epidemics among the local population.
Palestinian officials say the lack of fuel required to operate local municipal vehicles that can safely dispose of waste, noting this is part of how Israel is deliberately destroying all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip.
Anyone walking through all the governorates of Gaza can see piles of garbage piled up next to hospitals, schools, shelter centres and public streets. Children play around them.
Since the launch of Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army has destroyed more than 85 per cent of the civilian infrastructure in the besieged coastal enclave.
Israeli military operations have directly targeted vital infrastructure, significantly damaging or destroying water networks, affecting supply and exacerbating an already precarious water crisis in Gaza because of the ongoing illegal Israeli blockade since 2007.
The Israeli army also prevents Gaza's municipal crews from transporting waste to the main landfills in the eastern cities of Gaza and Khan Younis.
Palestinian residents have resorted to burning waste, which in turn causes air pollution and is toxic to everyone.
"It is expected that many chest and respiratory diseases will sweep the Gaza Strip due to the accumulation of waste and the failure to dispose of it safely," remarked Yahya Al-Sarraj, mayor of Gaza City, to The New Arab.
"The Israeli army deliberately inflicts heavy losses on the Gazans, not only by bombing homes over the heads of their residents but also by destroying the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, as well as preventing our crews from performing their duties towards our Palestinian people," al-Sarraj said.
About 3,000 tons of waste accumulate daily and are not disposed of because of the war, Al-Sarraj noted.
Perhaps the most concerning situation, according to Al-Sarraj, is the proliferation of medical waste, which contains harmful viruses and bacteria that can cause infectious epidemics, such as diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera.
In addition, he pointed out how power outages since the beginning of the Israeli aggression have caused the loss of 70 per cent of water sources, with the remaining 30 per cent being what's left to provide for the people.
Ahmed Al-Naji, a surgical specialist at Nasser Hospital in the city of Khan Younis, south of the Gaza Strip, told TNA that "waste causes diseases related to the digestive system in the first place, and then the respiratory system if it is burned."
"If the waste is not disposed of correctly, it will emit gases into the air, causing the transmission of diseases among the local population, especially the displaced people crowded into shelter centres in the Gaza Strip," he added.
According to Al-Naji, more than two-thirds of the population of the Strip are exposed to infectious diseases due to pollution in the Gaza Strip.
"What makes this worse is the lack of availability of the necessary medicines to treat patients, which contributes to doubling the number of people infected with infectious diseases," he noted.
Air pollution can lead to stroke, heart attack if the blood does not receive enough oxygen and nutrients, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Decomposing waste left undisposed can also affect groundwater, wells and irrigation of crops, causing several illnesses, such as skin diseases.
Al-Naji warned of the spread of dangerous and infectious diseases such as plague if the waste leads to the spread of rodents and reptiles.
Moiassar Abu Baker, a Palestinian mother from Gaza City, spoke to TNA about how her four children contracted intestinal infections and suffered for weeks from influenza. She was unable to obtain the necessary treatment for them easily.
Currently, Abu Baker lives in a tent with 15 of her relatives she set up in the city of Rafah, in the strip's south, after her home in Gaza City was destroyed by Israel.
"The situation is catastrophic. The minimum necessities for human life are not available. The weather is extremely cold, and we do not have enough clothes for our children, nor healthy food or drink that might boost their healthy immunity," the 45-year-old woman said to TNA.
"I fear that my children will die from the severe illness they suffer from," she added.
More than 25,000 people - mostly civilians - have been killed in Israel's air and ground assault since Oct 2023. Over 10,000 of the dead have been children.