Relief offered to northern Gaza village hit by sewage disaster

By staff writers
April 3, 2007

An agency supported by a coalition of humanitarian and church organisations is assisting with a rescue operation after a flood of sewage swept through a village in the northern Gaza Strip, killing at least five people.

The devastation occurred when a waste water treatment pool burst its banks next to the village of Um Nasser in Beit Lahiya, forcing around 1,500 people to flee their homes.

Two elderly women, two children and a teenage girl were among the dead while a further eleven people are missing.

At least 250 houses were damaged by the flood. The United Nations Relief Works Agency has set up a temporary camp with tents and food rations for displaced families.

A primary healthcare clinic run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) - supported by UK agency Christian Aid and others - was affected by the flooding but has now been cleared and is providing healthcare services to those injured in the flood.

PMRS is also assisting with the rescue and relief operation and has established two teams to help evacuate people, search for those still missing under the sewage and transfer the injured to hospital.

Mohammed Yaghi, head of the PMRS clinic in the village has worked there for five years and knows many of the village’s 5,000 inhabitants.

"This has been a tough day for everyone. It was particularly heartbreaking when an 11-month-old child whom I had treated at the clinic just two days before for a common cold was found dead in his house along with his grandmother," he said.

The search for bodies thought to be trapped inside the houses destroyed by the flood continues.

PMRS is extremely concerned about the public health implications for the displaced due to a lack of clean drinking water, the risk of water-borne diseases and the prevalence of mosquitoes.

They say people are in need of mattresses, blankets, baby milk, nappies and hygiene kits.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has blamed the disaster on a freeze of aid to the PA since the election victory of Hamas in January 2006. But UN officials in Gaza said the plant had not been affected by the aid boycott but by security risks in the area and unexploded ordnance left over from Israeli incursions which had prevented repairs.

"Israel’s prolonged closure of Gaza’s borders has also prevented the entry of spare parts and materials needed for construction and repairs," said Helen Murray, Christian Aid emergency advocacy officer.

The sewage facility was built in the 1970s to serve around 50,000 people but has struggled to cope as the local population has grown to nearly 200,000. Construction of a new plant had been planned but Israel has not allowed work to be carried out on the new site.

The plant was also badly affected by air strikes and Israeli incursions in the Gaza Strip in June 2006 when the bombing of Gaza’s only domestic power plant resulted in less available electricity to pump sewage from the pools.

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