COP28 urged not to forget Gaza

World Health Organization spokesperson Margaret Harris said that more people could die from disease than from bombings in the Gaza Strip if its health system is not repaired.


November 29, 2023

HONG KONG – The UN’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai from Nov 30 to Dec 12 must not ignore the environmental disaster unfolding in the latest Israel-Palestine conflict, experts said, adding that environmental action and compensation must be incorporated into any rebuilding process of the Gaza Strip

Salman Zafar, founder of EcoMENA, an environmental think tank in Doha, Qatar, told China Daily that the “round-the-clock bombardment” of impoverished Gaza has “led to an environmental disaster in more ways than one”.

“The total collapse of waste management and water supply infrastructure, the relentless Israeli onslaught has caused irreparable damage to biodiversity, soil fertility, air quality, and public health,” said Zafar.

READ MORE: UN: COP28 must set stage for immediate climate action

World Health Organization spokesperson Margaret Harris said on Tuesday that more people could die from disease than from bombings in the Gaza Strip if its health system is not repaired.

Gaza health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, around 40 percent of them children, with many more dead feared to be lost under rubble.

“Eventually we will see more people dying from disease than we are even seeing from the bombardment if we are not able to put back (together) this health system,” Harris said at a UN briefing in Geneva.

She repeated concerns about a rise in outbreaks of infectious diseases, particularly diarrhoeal diseases.

Citing a UN report on the living conditions of displaced residents in northern Gaza, she said: “(There are) no medicines, no vaccination activities, no access to safe water and hygiene and no food. We saw a very high number of cases of diarrhoea among infants,” she said.

She described the collapse of Al Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza as a “tragedy” and voiced concern about the detention of some of its medical staff by Israeli forces during a WHO evacuation convoy.

On Nov 8, the United Nations reported that attacks by Israel on targets within Gaza have destroyed or damaged 45 percent of all housing units.

The recent flare-up has further exposed compounded issues that range from a humanitarian crisis to the weaponization of life-saving resources like water, food, and electricity, alongside increased food insecurity.

Water has been both a source of conflict and a shared struggle for both Israel and Palestine as part of the world’s most water-stressed region, the Middle East and North Africa. Some 83 percent of the region’s population is exposed to extremely high water stress, the World Economic Forum said in August.

On Oct 31, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme published their latest outlook covering Nov 2023 to April 2024, which said that acute food insecurity “is likely to deteriorate further in 18 hunger hotspots”.

Palestine was added to the list of countries or territories of highest concern due to the severe escalation of the conflict in October, joining Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan, and Sudan.

“The ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip are expected to further intensify and exacerbate the already dramatic humanitarian implications for the population in the outlook period, with the risk of potentially wider regional implications,” the outlook said.

“Gaza and other Palestinian areas have almost total dependence on international donors for socio-economic development, and if the Israeli offensive ends in the near future, the focus will be more on reconstruction and rehabilitation, instead of building climate adaptation or resilience,” said Zafar.

According to “The Climate Action Monitor 2023” by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Israel will also be at greater climate risk in the foreseeable future.

Israel is expected to have 80 days each year between 2080 and 2099 where temperatures will be above 35 degrees Celsius, up by 45 days from the yearly average recorded in the two decades starting in 1995.

It is the highest expected increase among the 51 OECD countries and partner countries examined in the report, which also forecasts a significant increase in Israeli areas exposed to drought conditions.

Israeli forces have been conducting special military operations in Gaza aimed at the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), after Israel was caught off guard by the group’s attack on Oct 7.

Fighting had been on a temporary pause during a Qatar-mediated four-day truce expiring on Nov 28. Xinhua News Agency reported that Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the pause by two days, citing a Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

Muslim Imran, director at the Asia Middle East Center for Research and Dialogue, a think tank in Malaysia, told China Daily that Israel’s “apartheid policies included a lot of environmental injustice”.

Some policies “are reactionary and unfriendly to the environment”, he said, citing Palestine’s quest for clean water and Israel’s continuous bombardment of land and damage to trees.

“It implements policies that make it very hard for Palestinian subjects to ensure the basic human needs to survive.”

“In the West Bank, Israeli practices are not better. They appropriate the Palestinian land as well as water resources,” said Imran, who added that nature had been damaged where Israel had uprooted olive trees and stolen land.

Razan Zuayter, the global co-chair of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty, told the “Voices of Resistance: Stop the Genocide!” online forum on Nov 14, that the root cause of climate change lay in “the hands of imperialist powers”.

READ MORE: UN youth conference ahead of COP28 sets agenda for future

Zuayter, who is also the founder of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature, accused powerful countries of “painting this climate change by mitigation and adaptation”.

“They never speak about compensation. Compensating the South for the horrific impact of their so-called development on the resources of the world, especially on the abuse of the power,” Zuayter said.

“Only if they stop militarism, supporting wars even in our region, will they be helping in the climate change process.”

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