Cablegate: Gaza Ngo Leader Describes Health and Environment

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified - please handle accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: According to Jamal Safi, chairman of the
Environmental Protection and Research Institute (EPRI) and
winner of the prestigious Zayed International Prize for the
Environment, key health and environmental challenges for
Gaza include blood-borne infectious diseases, lead
poisoning, misuse of pesticides, solid waste management and
disposal, sewage and wastewater treatment, and water
scarcity. Safi stressed the importance of involving NGO's
in efforts to resolve health and environmental problems in
Gaza. End summary.

The Environmental Protection and Research Institute
--------------------------------------------- ---------------
2. (U) EPRI was established in 1989 and registered
officially in 1991 as a nonprofit nongovernmental
organization and an independent institute in the Gaza Strip.
The institute was founded by a group of Palestinian
scientists dedicated to protection of the environment and
the public interest through applied research and public
awareness efforts. EPRI is focused on research and
development in public health, environment, and agriculture
and the promotion of environmental planning, effective
management strategies, awareness, education, public and
expert information, monitoring, and pollution control. EPRI
has carried out joint research with outstanding U.S.,
European, Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian academic
institutions. It is a repeat grant recipient under the
USAID Middle East Regional Cooperation Program (MERC).
EPRI's 30-member consulting committee includes experts in
agriculture, public health, environmental health, public
awareness, education, management, pesticide chemistry and
toxicology, neurotoxicology, pharmacology, microbiology,
biochemistry, physiology, organic chemistry and medical

Health Risks in Gaza: Infectious Diseases, Lead Poisoning
--------------------------------------------- ---------------
3. (SBU) Dr. Safi discussed Gaza health and environmental
challenges with ESTH Officer over lunch in Tel Aviv June 23.
The most serious infectious diseases are blood-borne,
including Hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B infected six
percent of blood donors in 1994-95. That rate is now down
to three percent due to efforts by EPRI. The Hepatitis C
infection rate has dropped from 2.6 to less than 0.5 percent
over the same period. EPRI trained Ministry of Health staff
in analysis of Hepatitis, provided presentations and
lectures to doctors and blood technicians, and carried out
community education and outreach to stem the spread of these
diseases by discouraging at-risk behaviors. EPRI and others
also focused on clans and extended families where infection
rates were sometimes as high as 50-60 percent. Safi said
that had been no new AIDS cases since 1993 in Gaza; all
those infected with AIDS before that time had died.

3. (SBU) Major sources of lead exposure in Gaza include
smelters, battery factories (manufacturing and recycling),
radiator repair shops, used lead-based paints, leaded
gasoline, and flour from stone mills. Point exposures
include occupational and industrial settings, and use of a
particular input to cosmetics. EPRI has carried out a pilot
study on lead poisoning among children, together with the
CDC and Hebrew University. They discovered a 17.2 percent
rate of lead poisoning among children in "hot spot," areas
with high concentrations of lead. The overall rate was
approximately five percent. Children of lead-exposed
workers are also at high risk for lead poisoning. The
Ministry of Health does not carry out any lead poisoning
analysis, Safi said. EPRI and Ben Gurion University are
preparing a full MERC proposal to examine hot spot risks.

Health Risks from Use of Pesticides
4. (SBU) Safi said that Gazans faced heath risks due to the
over- and misuse of pesticides. This situation exists both
in the Palestinian areas of Gaza and in the Israeli
settlements, in the latter due to intensive agriculture in
particular. EPRI had detected levels in fruits and
vegetables exceeding international standards. Monitoring of
pesticide levels in both water and soil was sorely needed.
There appeared to be a correlation between pesticide levels
and growing incidences of cancers in a 1990-99 study of over
5,000 cases. EPRI and Israel's Agricultural Research Office
are preparing a MERC proposal to monitor pesticide residue
levels in soils in Israel and Gaza. Safi noted that the
ability to control pesticide levels will affect Gaza's
ability to export produce.
Environmental Problems
5. (SBU) Safi said that solid waste disposal was a major
problem in Gaza due to a lack of sanitary landfill capacity
and the absence of a plan for managing solid waste. Gazans
produce about 1,000 tons of new solid waste every day, he
said. He favored construction of a major incinerator at a
cost of USD 10-20 as the best solution because burning off
solid waste would produce electricity and there was not
enough land in overpopulated Gaza to dispose of the waste
indefinitely. As a second-best option, he favored recycling
and composting. Safi noted that Gaza had lots of flies due
to solid waste and mosquitoes because of untreated and
uncontained sewage.

6. (SBU) Safi stated that there is not enough sewage
treatment capacity in Gaza, especially in Khan Yunis. There
are three large-scale collecting pools, not enough to meet
the needs of the population. Sewage not held in those pools
typically flows into the sea or collects on the ground. He
estimated that USD 200 million is needed to resolve Gaza's
sewage problem, above and beyond assistance projects already
on the drawing board. The sewage problem adds to levels of
heavy metals, nitrates and pesticides in soils and ground

Water: High Salinity, Contamination, Shortage
--------------------------------------------- ------------
7. (SBU) Safi said that Gaza faced a water deficit of 40-60
million cubic meters (MCM) per year. (Note: Most experts
accept the figure of 60 MCM. End note). The WHO standard
for nitrates in water is 45 parts per million (PPM), but
some producing wells in Gaza have concentrations as high as
100 PPM. Other wells have concentrations of chlorides as
high as 1,000 PPM, Safi said. Some wells used for drinking
water even exceed the contamination standards for
agricultural use. Producing wells requiring treatment to
make them suitable for use are not getting it. Safi stated
that Gaza was suffering from an inability to exercise
Palestinian rights to water from aquifers shared with
Israel. He said that Israel proper and Israeli settlements
in the Palestinian territories receive about 500 MCM from
the shared aquifers, while Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza receive only 150 MCM. In particular, he said that
Israeli dams along the Wadi Gaza, which flows from Israel
into the Gaza Strip, were capturing up to 20 MCM that had
reached Gaza in the past. He also said that Israel "was
overpumping from wells near the border with Gaza to make the
Negev green," depriving the coastal aquifer under Gaza of
those supplies. (Comment: Israeli and Palestinian sources
differ on the extent each uses shared aquifers and Israeli
capture of runoff that could benefit Gaza. The estimate of
20 MCM of previous supplies from the Wadi Gaza is probably
high. MFA Water Issues Director has promised ESTH Officer a
briefing July 11 on Israeli data and perspectives on shared
aquifers and watersheds; regardless of the accuracy of
Safi's estimates, the scarcity of high-quality affordable
water in Gaza is clearly a health, environment and economic
issue. End comment).

Role of NGO's in Resolving Environment-related Problems in
--------------------------------------------- ---------------
8. (SBU) ESTH Officer and Safi touched briefly on the
pending resumption of meetings of the Israeli-Palestinian
Joint Environmental Experts Committee, suspended since the
beginning of the recent Intifada. Underlining his
institute's success in addressing health problems and its
ability to work effectively with outside parties, including
Israeli institutions, Safi said that the international
community should look to NGO's in Gaza and the West Bank as
an important avenue for addressing problems related to the
environment. He said not only could NGO's assist greatly
with the areas of environment, public health and agriculture
that are the focus of his institute, but that problems in
those areas should be addressed through regional cooperation
as well.

9. (SBU) Bio Note: Jamal Safi was born in the Jabalia
Refugee Camp in Gaza in 1957. He has a PhD in Chemistry and
Toxicology of Pesticides from the Faculty of Agriculture of
Alexandria University. Safi has managed to work effectively
with a range of international partners, including Israelis
and Americans, despite political turmoil in Gaza. He stated
that he got Chairman Arafat to instruct the Health Ministry
to work with EPRI to control Hepatitis, and that he had a
personal connection with PA President Abbas as well. Safi
won the Zayed International Prize for the Environment in
2003 for environmental action leading to change in society.


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