Written by: Dr. Mohanad Abu Rjaile
The Palestinian refugee camps rely on a different organisational structure than the surrounding areas. The responsibility of providing basic services falls on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which works to provide public health programmes that are always available to refugees living in the camps. In the event that these services are not available or suitable, the commission must cooperate with the local health ministry and other relevant authorities to provide new services or improve existing services. This is necessary for the benefit of all refugee residents.
On the other hand, refugee camps in the West Bank have been suffering from waste accumulation for more than 70 days due to the strike of UNRWA employees and the lack of suitable health and environmental infrastructure when disposing waste. This has a negative impact on the public health of an estimated more than 900,000 residents who are exposed to this problem. Waste accumulation in Palestinian refugee camps leads to the spread of insects and rodents, which increases the likelihood of infectious and epidemic diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid fever and others. It also leads to the spread of foul odours, smoke and dust, which affects air quality and increases the likelihood of respiratory and eye diseases. 92% of the world's population live in places where the levels exceed the limits set by the World Health Organisation. Air pollution causes at least 3 million deaths each year worldwide, with developing countries accounting for 90% of these deaths.
Due to the lack of suitable health and environmental infrastructure in the camps, waste is thrown in public areas near homes, schools and hospitals. This increases the likelihood of groundwater and surface water contamination, impacting the public health of the residents in the camps and neighbouring areas. In addition, waste accumulation in Palestinian refugee camps affects the environment and surrounding nature, causing serious diseases in animals and plants.
Comprehensive solutions are needed to improve public health in Palestinian refugee camps, including improvements to water and sanitation supplies, the provision of basic health services, as well as the development of facilities for waste collection, sorting and storage. This also includes the provision of safe and healthy methods for waste disposal. This requires cooperation and joint efforts from local governments, humanitarian organisations, local communities and affected populations in order to improve their health and quality of life.
Given the danger resulting from the accumulation of waste and the high percentage of affected populations, which reaches more than 25% of the population of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority needs to assist in solving the problem by addressing the United Nations and Arab countries to provide more support for UNRWA. The Palestinian Authority should also intervene through the Ministry of Labour by suspending the strike for a period not exceeding one month in exchange for beginning an effective dialogue to find satisfactory solutions for both parties, where the rights of more than 3,500 employees in the West Bank cannot be marginalised.
As for the problem of waste accumulation at the strategic level, this problem can be addressed by providing suitable and sufficient waste containers in the camps for proper waste disposal. They should be regularly emptied to avoid waste accumulation in cooperation with the Palestinian Ministry of Local Government, as the World Bank indicates a 70% increase in waste in the world by 2050. Camp residents should be trained on how to handle and manage waste properly. Awareness and education tools such as publications, workshops and media campaigns can be used to raise awareness of the importance of proper waste disposal in cooperation with the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Health.
Recycling some recyclable materials such as plastic, paper, glass and metal is also important. Special containers for recyclable materials should be provided and residents in the camps should be educated on the importance of recycling and how to do it. Non-hazardous waste constitutes 85% of the total waste, while the remaining 15% are hazardous materials that can spread infection, be radioactive or toxic. To reduce waste accumulation in camps, the use of disposable materials such as plastic bags and small plastic bottles should be limited. Camp residents can be encouraged to use reusable bags and avoid using disposable plastic bags, as plastic accumulation in soil beyond 5% can cause significant harm to the soil and groundwater. Hazardous waste such as batteries, medicines and pesticides should be disposed of carefully. Additionally, organic waste such as vegetables, fruits, leaves and branches can be used to make organic fertiliser. Special boxes for organic waste can be provided and camp residents can be taught how to collect and use them to make organic fertiliser in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture.
In conclusion, the issue of waste accumulation in Palestinian refugee camps has a significant impact on the public health of the residents, the environment and the surrounding nature. It requires immediate attention and comprehensive solutions. These would include improvements in water supply, sanitation, basic health services and the development of facilities for waste collection, sorting, storage and safe disposal. Therefore, all parties need to enhance joint efforts to address waste accumulation in the camps by providing suitable and sufficient waste containers, promoting awareness of proper waste disposal and encouraging recycling to create a healthier and safer living environment for Palestinian refugees.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.