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Apr 25, 2013

Gaza's Challenge

Gaza's Challenge

Ramy Salem specialises in waste management in post-conflict zones and developing
countries. Here he looks at current practices and the potential for development in the Gaza Strip

This article was officially published in CIWM Journal (April Issue). For more information, visit CIWM website.

A Waste container, near a primary school in central Gaza, is put on fire
The Gaza Strip has been a theatre of conflict for decades. The ongoing conflict has lead to significant political, social, and environmental challenges. According to a recent study by UnoPT (2012); in the absence of sustained & effective remedial actions coupled with the rapid increase of population, the challenges which confront Gazans will be intensify over the coming years to 2020.
The environmental situation in the Gaza Strip has been suffering for decades, due to under-investment in environmental systems, lack of progress on priority environmental projects, the absence of law enforcement and the tenancy towards crisis management. In addition to that, the recent militarily escalations; the “Cast Lead” (2008-2009) and the “Pillar of Clouds” (2012) cased additional damage and increased the pressure on environmental facilities and infrastructure. One of the most striking examples is the significant volume of generated demolition debris due to heavy bombing. Approximately 600,000 tons of construction rubbles were generated due to the “Cast Lead” (UNDP, 2010).

The Gaza Strip is a narrow strip of land on the Mediterranean cost.  It borders Israel to the east and north and Egypt to the south. It covers a total area of 365 square kilometers which is approximately the same area as Bradford city. In 1948, the Gaza had a population of less than 100,000 people. Currently, approximately 1.6 million, of whom almost one million are UN-registered refugees, distributed across five governorates (PCBS, 2013). It is expected that the population of Gaza will increase to 2.1 million by 2020 and 3.2 million by 2040 (UnoPT, 2012 and UNDP, 2012). Gaza Strip has been under severe siege for almost 6 years which is partially lifted after the Egyptian revolution in January 2011.

Waste management services in Gaza are currently under great stress, as most other public services, due to the closure and economic restrictions currently imposed on Gaza. An assessment of the per capita waste generation shows that the total amounts of household waste generated by this population will likely rise from 1506 ton / day in 2011 to 3383 ton / day in 2040. Additionally, 147 ton / day of commercial waste, 157 ton / day of market waste and 1200 ton / day of agricultural waste will be generated in 2040 (UNDP, 2012). This poses a huge challenge to the waste sector in Gaza, not only taking into account the limited financial resources and underdeveloped levels of waste management services, but also the limited land availability in the Gaza Strip. The limitations in the solid waste management system in Gaza are summarized below;
-    The absence of consistent national and local waste management legislations.
-    Political and security instability and the Israeli control over all commercial borders with Gaza.
-    Limited fund for development projects.
-     Inefficient waste management structures .
-    Scarcity of land for waste management installations.

Solid waste in Gaza is currently managed by five waste service providers; North Gaza Joint Service Council (JSC), the Municipality of Gaza, Deir al Balah Joint Service Council, the Municipality of Rafah and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). each body is responsible for collection and transportation of waste to landfills ( Johr Al Deek Landfill serves Northern Gaza Governorates, Gaza, parts of Deir al Balah, Rafah Landfill serves Deir al Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah). Most of the waste is collected with the use of donkey carts, but also tractors, tipper cranes and waste trucks are used. Bad conditions of the collection fleet and limited financial resources are major constraints to these operations, and sometimes waste is piled up at temporary and unprotected storage sites in the north of Gaza for long periods of time or put on fire to make space for more waste. The salaries of the collection staff is paid directly by the municipalities, while remaining operation and maintenance costs are paid by the JSC themselves. 30-40% of the operational costs for solid waste management in Gaza are financed through collection of waste bills from household and commercial facilities (UNDP, 2012). The remainder is paid on ad hoc basis by a varying group of international financiers. For instance, COOPI, an Italian NGO, cover expenses for 150 donkey carts and related labour for household collection (Morris-Iveson, 2009). 

Donkey carts are used for door-to-door daily collection
The UNWRA manages waste collection and transportation from the 8 refugee camps in Gaza, with a total population of about 0.5 Million. Waste services are provided by UNWRA with donkey carts, tractors, crane trucks, mainly using a total of about 800 waste containers distributed over the camps (vest, 2003). The waste services in the refugee camps are free of charge for the population. UNWRA transports its waste to either Johr al Deek, Deir al Balah or to Rafah (UNDP, 2012). UNWRA receives its operating budget from the international community. In 2009 UNWRA received approximately 1.2 Billion USD for all its core programs. It has spent approximately 1.7 Million USD on waste management services (UN, 2009).

Separate from the five official waste service providers, numerous people are involved in waste recycling. Specifically plastics and construction/building debris are collected and reused in Gaza intensively. The waste is collected either on a door-to-door basis by individuals with their donkey carts, or from spots where debris can be found. The plastic waste is reused in numerous plastic recycling factories, producing plastic bags or simple consumer goods (Morris-Iveson, 2009); debris is currently intensively recycled in Gaza at and around new building projects (vest, 2003). Waste picking from open dump sites and the three landfills is performed by mainly young people looking for valuables including metals scraps and old textile. This situation poses serious health threats, since, as explained earlier, the waste is often mixed with hazardous or infectious waste streams.

In the long term, it is expected that the Gaza Strip will be served until the year 2040 by two extended sanitary landfills: one located at Johr al Deek to serve the governorates of Gaza City and North Gaza; and the other located at Rafah to serve the governorates of Deir al Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah (UNDP, 2012). The long term strategy was developed by an international consultant in partnership with various local partners. The long-term strategy has been developed taking into consideration the political instability in the region. Although the strategy has covered broadly other recycling scheme (e.g. compost of organic waste), the study doesn’t give serious attention for other recycling techniques.

Personally, as a waste management consultant, being aware of all development projects conducted in the Gaza Strip. I believe that an effective recycling scheme has a significant potential to be implemented in Gaza. However, the development of integrated solid waste management system might extend for decades.  For the short term, pilot studies focusing on specific waste streams are strongly required to be developed in Gaza. For instance, a commercial waste management system to collect, process or export cardboard/paper waste from the commercial sector can be designed and developed to study and analyze the response from the community towards such project. In addition of that, the government needs to enforce the law gradually to make sure it helps and doesn’t negatively affect the local economy.

 This pilot study can be used to explore the general atmosphere towards having consistent and effective commercial waste management system. Then, Further steps can be made by covering various waste streams; hazardous waste; healthcare waste; agricultural waste and electronic waste.

Ramy Salem,
BEng(Hons) MSc GradMCIWM ISWA, is a solid waste management consultant with a focus on postconflict zones and developing countries. He is the founder of "Zero Waste MENA", a new regional initiative to promote sustainable practices to create zero waste communities in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Region.