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Waste from illegal Israeli settlements threatens public health, agriculture in West Bank

Waste from illegal Israeli settlements threatens public health, agriculture in West Bank

- Illegal Jewish settlements in West Bank produce about 40 million cubic meters of wastewater annually due to inadequate treatment, says Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics

By Yesim Yuksel

ISTANBUL (AA) - The wastewater and solid waste from illegal Jewish settlements and industrial zones like Immanuel in the occupied West Bank pose a dual threat, endangering public health and rendering agricultural lands unusable.

According to data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, lacking adequate treatment facilities, produce approximately 40 million cubic meters of wastewater annually.

Studies conducted by the agency in 2018 revealed that about 90% of these wastes, approximately 35 million cubic meters, are discharged untreated into Palestinian territories.

Research by the Italian humanitarian organization Cesvi in 2019 showed that settlers generate more solid waste per capita compared to Palestinians.

In 2019, while Palestinians in the West Bank produced an average of 0.9 kilograms (1.98 pounds) of solid waste per person per day, Israeli settlers produced 1.9 kilograms.

Based on this data, it is estimated that illegal settlements generate around 1,200 tons of solid waste daily.


- Traces of heavy metals found in soil samples

In a recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the environmental impact of untreated wastewater from West Bank settlements was analyzed using various methods, including geographical information systems, chemical and biological analyses, and socio-economic research conducted by the Land Research Center (LRC) from May 1 to Oct. 31 last year.

The study detected coliform bacteria, commonly found in sewage and animal waste, in water samples from agricultural areas in the Wadi Shakhit and Immanuel's industrial zone that houses factories and recycling plants. It also found high nitrate levels, potentially causing eutrophication and groundwater pollution.

Escherichia coli bacteria, associated with diarrhea and other serious illnesses, were present in soil and water samples, indicating contamination with sewage and animal waste.

Additionally, traces of heavy metals like copper, manganese, chromium, and nickel were found, alongside high sodium levels disrupting soil structure and nutrient absorption, hindering crop growth.

Organic pollutant levels exceeded EU standards, with chemical oxygen demand, reaching 312 milligrams per liter in Wadi Shakhit and 557 milligrams per liter in Immanuel.

Moreover, total suspended solids were also detected at 960 milligrams per liter in Wadi Shakhit and 8,809 milligrams per liter in Immanuel, exceeding the normal value of 35 to 60 milligrams per liter.

- Wastewater destroys agricultural lands

Wastewater discharged from Wadi Shakhit and Immanuel industrial zone damages vegetation and renders agricultural lands unusable.

Palestinians say that the periodic release of polluted water, which began in the 1990s from a treatment plant in Wadi Shakid, where they have been growing almonds, olives and grapes, has become increasingly frequent since 2009, especially during grape harvest seasons.

Investigations revealed that black and foul-smelling water discharged from the facility in question spread about 300 meters and caused pollution in an area of 100 acres.

The area of land dedicated to grape cultivation in Wadi Shakhit decreased by 26% from 2010 to 2,041 dunums due to wastewater pollution, resulting in stunted growth and low fruit quality.

Residents also claim that the Immanuel industrial zone's outlet pipe releases waste containing oil, paint, and high salt content directly into agricultural land four to five times a year, contaminating an area of approximately 120 dunams (120,000 m2), as confirmed by field research conducted by LRC.


- Pollution triggers invasive species

Ecological changes are occurring due to pollution. Invasive plant species such as Datura stramonium, Phragmites australis, and Ricinus communis, typically found in contaminated areas, were identified in Wadi Shakhit and the Immanuel industrial zone.

Experts warn that pollution, which threatens both public health and the environment, exacerbates pressure on Palestinians already dealing with the intensified effects of climate change.

According to the World Health Organization, the average air temperature in the West Bank is expected to rise by 4.4 degrees Celsius (39.92 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the 21st century, with around 60% of days predicted to be hot.

A potential 30% reduction in the region's total annual rainfall may also lead to hotter and drier days.

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