Friday, October 20, 2017

Waste water and pollution threaten Salfit


By Ben H. - October 21, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [sewage] [settlements] [Area C] [Salfit]

Photos by Ben H.

Untreated wastewater runs like a small creek along the side of the road by Salfit village near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank.  Plants wither around the water and a stench hangs in the air.  Stretching back into town, the olive groves show little sign of the contamination in the soil, but Saleh Afaneh, Head of the Technical Department for Engineering, Water, and Waste Water in Salfit, says it’s only a matter of time.  “The pollution reaches the soil and water,” he says, “next it will reach the farms, vegetables, and trees.”

It’s estimated that 91 million cubic meters (mcm) of wastewater flow in the West Bank every year.  Ariel, the second largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank after Ma’aleh Adumim, has a treatment plant with the capacity to handle 7,000 residents, the population of the town when the plant was built some twenty years ago.  Now that the settlement has expanded to approximately 35,000 people, the treatment plant is overwhelmed—it breaks down frequently and provides insufficient treatment levels even when fully operational.
 
According to a 2004 report by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), only 6% of the sewage from Israeli settlements undergoes adequate treatment.  48% is treated inadequately or not at all, and another 22% comes from areas where construction projects are currently underway to treat the wastewater.  A joint report conducted by several Israeli governmental departments in 2008 concluded that 40 of the 121 settlements were not connected to any form of sewage treatment facility.  Of the settlements connected to treatment plants, more than half are too small to handle the volume of sewage they receive and regularly break down.
The pollution reaches the soil and water, next it will reach the farms, vegetables, and trees.
 When the Ariel plant breaks down, untreated wastewater flows freely downhill from the settlement, where it meets sewage coming from Salfit and runs west to the towns of Buruqin and Kufr Al-Dik.  The municipal government of the village has been trying to build a treatment plant to cover Salfit’s wastewater since 1995, but the German development bank that had signed on to finance the construction backed out after the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture delayed the process of picking a site for the plant, finally rejecting all possible sites as unusable.  “We have a sewerage network in Salfit that covers almost 50% of the city,” says Saleh, “but that sewage is going to the valley because we don’t have a treatment plant yet.” 
 
Saleh explains that Israel’s Separation Wall dividing the Salfit governorate keeps the town from being able to build new infrastructure to fix its problems.  The village municipality started laying a new pipe in 2000 to replace its main water line, which is almost 35 years old and too small to handle the needs of the current population, but “the moment we reached Area C,” he says, “[the Israelis] stopped us.”  The new line remains partially finished and the old pipe continues to be used.
 
In addition, the sewage from Ariel and Salfit passes only 20-25 meters from the Al-Matwi spring, which provides much of the potable water for Salfit.  Wastewater also seeps down to the recharge area for the Mountain Aquifer, the source of most of the fresh water in the West Bank and much of the drinking water for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Be’er Sheva.  “What I don’t understand,” Saleh says, “is that this sewage is going to the valley, at the end it’s going to the aquifer, which means it doesn’t just pollute the water of the Palestinians.  It will pollute our water and their water.  When we talk about the environment – the environment doesn’t know what is Palestinian and what is Israeli.  The pollution will reach everyone.”
 
This is partially true, as the pollution seeping into the Mountain Aquifer will continue to affect drinking water in both Israel and the West Bank.  However, as noted in a 2009 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, “Israeli policy exploits the fact that Palestinian wastewater is not treated inside the West Bank and flows into Israel. Israel treats some of this wastewater in facilities inside its sovereign area... yet deducts the cost of building these facilities and of the treatment from tax monies owing to the Palestinian Authority.”
 
 
The pollution in Salfit is also considerably more severe than the downstream contamination of Israeli water.  In the same 2009 report, researchers at B’Tselem note that “the channel along which the wastewater flows is only 15 meters from Salfit area’s central water-pumping station.”  The pollution there has led to the extinction of most native animals and plants in the area; boars are all that have survived, presenting significant trouble for local farmers who have seen their fields and crops razed by the rising population of these wild pigs.
 
Chemically polluted water, often with high levels of carcinogens, also flows into Salfit from the Israeli settlement of Burkan.  “All the industries which were prohibited to be in Israel are shifted to Burkan,” says Ashraf, an environmental analyst in the office who researches the chemical pollution.  Burkan is the biggest industrial area in the West Bank, primarily operating plastic, textile, and aluminum factories.   The chemical waste from these factories leaches zinc, arsenic, and cadmium – all toxic and carcinogenic substances – into the groundwater.  “The most dangerous thing is farm animals feeding on plants in polluted areas... but this is the only area where the farmers are allowed to feed their animals from,” says Ashraf.
 
Furthermore, the Salfit surveyors found expired pesticides and solid waste marked with warning labels about carcinogenic materials.  “Instead of spending the money to destroy them safely,” Saleh says, Israeli factory owners bribe Palestinians to illegally store or dump the dangerous chemicals.  According to Saleh, the Salfit government has caught the source of the dumping, but the extant pesticides will cost billions of shekels to dispose of sanitarily.
 
In the meantime, the carcinogenic solid waste deposits and the air pollution blowing in from Burkan, which is situated upwind of Salfit, will continue to cause health risks for the town’s residents.  Ashraf explains that there is little extant historical data from which to determine the public health effects of the industrial waste, and access to sites in Burkan where adequate samples can be taken for analysis is restricted by Israel.  However, anecdotal evidence and case studies conducted by Birzeit University suggest that leukemia rates in particular have risen in the area.  As he says, “the most visible thing is the wastewater, but the most dangerous is the industrial waste.”
 

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