Mounds of old batteries threaten Gaza health

Batteries are an essential power source in Gaza, where public electricity supply is sparse and infrastructure has decayed since an Israeli blockade of the enclave began in 2007.

Published: 09th March 2022 09:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th March 2022 09:35 AM   |  A+A-

A Palestinian girl walks past a stack of discarded batteries slated for recycling in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 14, 2022.

A Palestinian girl walks past a stack of discarded batteries slated for recycling in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 14, 2022. (Photo | AFP)

By AFP

GAZA CITY: At a landfill in southern Gaza, mounds of discarded batteries pile up, rusting cells that pose a growing health risk to Palestinians in the enclave.

Batteries are an essential power source in Gaza, where public electricity supply is sparse and infrastructure has decayed since an Israeli blockade of the enclave began in 2007, the year Hamas Islamists seized control.

"The batteries have been piling up for 15 years," said Ibrahim Baraka, who works at the 2,000 square metre (half an acre) landfill in Khan Yunis, where residents of surrounding houses can peer in to see piles of lead and mercury waste accumulating daily.

Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, has only one power plant that runs on diesel. Fuel deliveries are unreliable, largely due to the blockade. The plant was also bombed by Israeli fighter jets during a 2006 conflict with Hamas.

Mohamed Masleh, director of resources at Gaza's Environment Ministry, estimated that there are 25,000 tonnes of used batteries in Gaza that need to be recycled.

Most are at sites not suited for storing dangerous materials.

A dangerous 'farce'

Battery collection is also a source of income for the impoverished territory, where unemployment rates hover around 50 percent.

On a crisp morning, Zakaria Abu Sultan meandered his horse-drawn cart through the streets of Gaza City, shouting his mission through a loudspeaker.

"Anyone with damaged batteries to sell?" he called out.

"I've been wandering since dawn to buy damaged batteries. I buy them at best for 50 shekels ($15), and sell them to the scrap dealer for 70 shekels," he told AFP.

Typically, damaged cells are taken to landfills, like the one in Khan Yunis where Baraka works, which dismantle them for materials like plastic that are then sold to factories.

Ahmed Hillis, director of Gaza's National Institute for Environment and Development, said that while he understood there was profit in discarded batteries, the trade was extremely dangerous.

"Tonnes of batteries are accumulating in dumps, some of which are more than 40 and 50 metres high," he said.

"Batteries are found among people and on animal carts, children are carrying them around," he told AFP.

"Sometimes we find a father and son trying to open them up with a screwdriver. It is a farce and chaos," he added.

Israel used to play a role in managing toxic materials from Gaza, but that stopped with the Hamas takeover in 2007.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by much of the West, and it has no direct contact with Israel.

Last month, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories (COGAT) said that a second iron shredding machine had become operational at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza.

The enhanced shredding capacity "will provide a significant increase in the export of iron scrap from the Gaza Strip", COGAT said.

Baraka said that had raised hope for a solution to battery waste, with most agreeing the current situation is not sustainable.

Hillis meanwhile urged Hamas to establish clear rules on handling toxic substances.

He said battery waste was now being managed by people "who do not comply with any rules and have no experience in collecting hazardous materials".



Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp