Citizens of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, under an Israeli blockade, are rediscovering the pleasures of the Mediterranean Sea after the authorities ended a long period of contamination of its waters.
“I haven’t been in the water for a year,” says Sabah Abu Ghanem, a 22-year-old surfer.
“As soon as I get in the water and surf the waves, I feel free and happy. All the negative energy is replaced by positive energy,” he told AFP.
Marine pollution has worsened in recent years in Gaza due to the lack of wastewater treatment strategies, which have turned the Mediterranean into a dumping ground.
The problem is compounded by the dilapidated infrastructure of this impoverished and overcrowded enclave.
The 2.3 million inhabitants of this small territory live under a strict land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel since the Islamist movement Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007.
In all this time, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, the only connection to Gaza that does not go through Israel, has also been almost always closed.
Gaza’s only power plant, which supplies power to sewage management stations, has been repeatedly damaged by Israeli shelling.
But six months ago, a German-funded plant came online in central Gaza and now treats 60,000 cubic meters of sewage a day, half of the enclave’s sewage, according to Mohammed Masleh, an official at Gaza’s environment ministry. .
– A relief from summer –
The project is only in its first phase and, once completed, the plant should be able to treat all the wastewater generated in the territory.
Since its commissioning, the quality of water in Gaza has improved significantly.
Now, according to samples taken by the Gaza authorities, two-thirds of its beaches are suitable for bathing, Masleh explains.
With the beginning of the school holidays and the arrival of the suffocating summer heat, the beaches offer relief for the inhabitants.
The plant also marks a turning point for the territory, which has invested $300 million in water management projects in the past decade, says Maher Najjar, deputy director of the coastal water authority.
The new plant located in Bureij has generators and solar panels for energy supply.
Najjar claims that he recovers 60 tons of solid waste every day that would otherwise have ended up in the sea.
But trust is not total. Although Sabah Abu Ghanem dares to mess with his board, he still doesn’t want to take his children who “have sensitive skin and can get infected”.
Sitting on the beach in Gaza City with her children and grandchildren, Umm Ibrahim Sider was also cautious.
“I said nobody was going in the water, but when the children saw all the people, they went and I couldn’t stop them,” says the 64-year-old woman.
One of his grandsons, Ibrahim, 13, did not want to get out of the water even though his eyes were red from the salt. “I’ve missed swimming in the sea,” he says.