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Dec 22, 2014

Gaza: Toil & Rubble

Al-Shijaiyya neighbourhood East of Gaza city (photo by Hosam Salem)

This article was firstly published in the CIWM Journal ( December, 2014).

In April 2013, Ramy wrote an article for the CIWM Journal entitled, "Gaza's challenge". The aim of the article was to review Gaza’s solid waste management system and suggest strategies to improve current practices. Considered to be a territory of conflict, Gaza faces numerous barriers that thwart any initiatives to improve environmental conditions and develop the waste management sector. It is indeed a challenging task. But today, Gaza is facing a once in a lifetime challenge, which is far greeater any challenges addressed in the article witten in 2013.

On the 8th July 2014, the Israeli army launched a new military offensive on the Gaza Strip. More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the conflict. In addition 71 Israelis were killed – six of them civilians. The 2014 war is incomparable to previous military escalations in terms of duration, casualties, and the level of destruction. UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, described it as a “nightmare”, urging to stop the violence in the region.

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 nearly the same geographical area as Bradford city. Currently, approximately 1.8 million citizens, of whom almost one million are UN-registered refugees, are distributed across five governorates. The 2008 UN report previously warned that Gaza is expected to be “unlivable place by 2020”. Inevitably, the 2014 war would bring this date closer. From an environmental outlook, this war has deepened Gaza’s environmental crisis. The people of Gaza suffer from daily power cuts, water quality deterioration, and environmental hygiene issues.

The scale of damage resulting from the 50-day escalation in hostilities is unprecedented. All governorates in the Gaza Strip witnessed extensive aerial bombardment, naval shelling and artillery fire, resulting in a considerable amount of rubble. According to recent statistics, more than 2 million tonnes of debris was generated.  Approximately 10000 houses were leveled to the ground including two 13-story residential buildings. A tremendous amount of debris remains scattered in Gaza. Serious efforts and a high budget are required to handle this challenge.  More importantly, and based on a UNEP study after the 2008 war, the debris is highly likely to be contaminated with PAHs and probably with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furan compounds.

Three compelling reasons exist to consider Gaza rubble one of the vastest challenges Gaza has ever had: the amount of debris is considerably huge to be reused in a small geographical area; the contamination of debris reduces options which could be considered; and the devastating situation persuades potential donors to priorities humanitarian projects rather than debris removal. According to a recently published report by the Palestinian Economic Council for Development & Reconstruction (PECDAR), local experts have suggested three options to deal with the rubble.
  •      Crushing it to be reused as an aggregate replacement in road infrastructure projects.
  •    The use of rubble for deliberate dumping of Gaza beach to expand its geographical area.
  •         Rehabilitate Gaza coast by building waves breaker.

The first step to handle the debris for any recycling or reuse (including land rehabilitation by dumping into the Mediterranean) is to ensure that there are no UnExploded Ordnances (UXO) in the debris which could pose a risk to debris workers. Secondly, the debris should be decontaminated of any hazardous materials as well as non-inert materials such as timber and furnishings. Leaving these materials in the debris will lead to void spaces developing once the debris has been placed in situ resulting in unstable roads or land. Once the debris has been ‘decontaminated’, simple crushers can be deployed to reduce the debris to a gravel material for reuse. This process requires a significant amount of work to make the debris ‘recyclable’. However, on the positive side there is experience in Gaza for this type of work, as well as numerous other countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and the Balkans.

From our perspective, and in order to introduce a pragmatic solution, both environmental and economic aspects should be considered prior any attempt to remove the rubble. Firstly, and in order to reduce transportation costs, rubble should be handled on-site using a mobile crusher. A key consideration will be the opportunity to import plant and machinery (with relaxations of the current embargos). Once rubble is crushed, it could be stored in designated sites, which should be systematically chosen close to future project sites. Thus, costs can be reduced significantly. Additionally, on-site processing gives an opportunity to identify any contamination, sort it onsite and dispose of it at a separate facility.

Organizations such as Zero Waste MENA and Disaster Waste Recovery have the experience to implement such projects and maximize the debris’ value. We are also happy to cooperate with any interested UK industry willing to take part in this project. 

Ramy Salemdeeb is the founder of Zero Wate MENA and current PhD researcher at Cambridge University.
Martin Bjerregaard is a director at Disaster Waste Recovery. He is also specialized in waste and debris management in post-disaster and post-conflict areas.