How COVID medical waste is worsening Gaza’s environmental crisis

Why the pandemic is making scavenging even more dangerous in Gaza's overflowing rubbish dumps.

Video Transcript

NATASHA GHONEIM: A dented can of beans, a scratched mobile phone case. Where some see rubbish, the Abed boys see money for food. The brothers are eight and nine years old and admit they'd rather be playing football. Instead, each day, they help their unemployed father rummage through this mountain of filth.

WAUHD ABED: I'm coming with my father to help him collect things like aluminium and copper. He needs me and my brother to help him.

NATASHA GHONEIM: This overflowing dump reached its capacity 20 years ago. Improperly disposed medical waste is among the rubbish, putting at risk the health of the Abed family and others who scavenge here and live nearby. Yet Imad Abed doesn't think about that. He is a father who needs to find his family of eight their next meal.

IMAD ABED: God protect me and my children from disease because my goal to find and to sell things to make money for my family. I'm not afraid.

NATASHA GHONEIM: COVID-19 has led to an increase in medical waste, yet Gaza doesn't have the staff for it. There isn't enough money to put fuel in the rubbish trucks. And the Israeli and Egyptian blockade is preventing donated trucks and equipment with the latest technology from entering. Ahmed Hilles, chairman of the National Institute for Environment and Development, says even before the pandemic, the medical waste crisis in Gaza was catastrophic. Aside from government hospitals, there is no standardized protocol and coordination for the safe disposal of medical waste that comes from homes and other sectors. With Gaza's two of three official landfills already full for years, illegal dumping grounds have proliferated. Officials say political differences between Fatah and Hamas are worsening the problem.

AHMED HILLES: We have to end the division internally. We have to strengthen the government, one government, in Ramallah and the West Bank of the Gaza Strip. It will make us more strong.

NATASHA GHONEIM: The government is working with various groups to devise a plan. Hilles would like to see children get paid to help recycle. Until then, the Abed brothers roam the rubbish dump hoping for their next good haul that might earn them as much as $6. Natasha Ghoneim, Al Jazeera, Gaza.