Floods in Gaza Strip exacerbate humanitarian crisis
December 22, 2013
Hamdi al-Shami, 54, woke up in the densely populated Zaytoun area of Gaza City on 11 December to find raw sewage flowing down his street at a height of more than two meters. It was just one of several sewage overflows to occur in his neighborhood over the last five weeks.
On 13 November, more than 35,000 cubic meters of raw sewage overflowed when the Zaytoun pumping station failed, affecting 3,000 nearby residents. Just as the mess was being cleaned up, the area was again inundated — this time with approximately twice as much waste — when heavy rains fell over the Gaza Strip between 11 and 15 December.
In Gaza City, one of the worst-hit areas, the municipality estimated that hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sewage and rainwater overflowed from pumping stations and manholes, flooding streets and homes.
“It was horrible. We lost many things when the sewage came from everywhere around us — the doors, manholes and sinks. This cannot be forgotten,” said al-Shami, speaking about November’s flooding.
That flooding was attributed to a combination of factors: power outages disrupting the city’s sewage pumps and a shortage in capacity, spare parts and facilities because of a seven-year blockade against Gaza.
At the time, residents were told that a rapidly-established power connection to the Israeli grid would prevent future problems. But with the recent rainfall, the situation in al-Shami’s neighborhood has only worsened.
He was stranded amid water and sewage for days.
“It hit us again, but harder this time,” al-Shami said on 12 December. “With every passing hour, the water level was rising. It was incredible. We called rescue teams to help us before it is too late. It was not only the electricity issue; we were also cut off from basic needs and clean water.”
With power outages and pump shortages, the Municipality of Gaza estimated it would take up to two weeks to drain the water and clean the sewage off the streets. It has brought in water pumps from other areas and expanded the artificial pond at Nafaq Street to speed up the process.
According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the floodingaffected 21,000 persons, including thousands who were displaced and sought shelter for days in schools or with relatives. Two persons died and 108 were injured, mainly in southern Gaza, OCHA said, in the worst storm the Middle East has seen in decades.
OCHA said Gaza received 75 percent of its average seasonal rainfall in those four days. Other estimates put the figure even higher, at about 111 million meters, or 92 percent of the average seasonal rainfall.