The consequences of Israel’s invasion of Gaza: environmental and humanitarian devastation

A small community of Palestinian and Filipino-Palestinian refugees in Quezon City known as ‘Little Gaza’ highlights the severe costs of the ongoing Gaza conflict, both humanitarian and environmental.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that about 1.7 million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced inside the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing Israeli invasion. Image: , CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

A small complex in Quezon City’s suburbs in the Philippines now houses 14 families of Palestinian and Filipino-Palestinian refugees, after being displaced by Israel’s invasion of Gaza last year.

Nearly half of the 69 individuals who call this cul-de-sac – dubbed ‘Little Gaza’ – their new home are children, the youngest just eight months old.

“We’re starting to see humanity prevail over religious and racial biases,” said Darwin Absari who works with the Moro-Palestinian Cooperation Team (MPACT) to provide humanitarian aid and support to the disadvantaged migrants.

He pointed to a recent series of community kitchen events held by the displaced Palestinian families, which received overwhelming support from predominantly non-Muslim Filipinos. To raise funds for daily essentials, the matriarchs of the tight-knit group held weekly “Little Gaza’s Kitchen” pop-up bazaars to sell home-cooked Palestinian dishes like maqluba and kabsa.

“We’re thankful that the local Filipino community has embraced these families and shown them compassion,” said Absari, who is also an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies. “We hope to help these families in rebuilding their lives in this small community. We know they already have very little to go back to in Gaza.”

Israel’s invasion of Gaza, following armed incursions by Palestinian groups last October, has wrought not only a significant human toll but also damaging consequences for the environment.

As the world grapples with the dual crises of climate change and military conflicts, understanding and mitigating the environmental impact of warfare is crucial.

Dr Benjamin Neimark, senior lecturer, Queen Mary University of London

Climate cost

A joint study by the Queen Mary University of London and the Climate and Community Project reports that emissions produced by the Israel-Gaza conflict between October 2023 and February 2024 exceeded the annual carbon footprint of 26 individual countries.

Taking into account intense military operations including, but not limited to – bombing raids, reconnaissance flights and rocket attacks – the report estimates that emissions from war-related activities have been comparable to burning 31,000 kilotonnes of coal, enough to power nearly 16 coal plants for one year.

“The carbon emissions associated with Israel’s invasion of Gaza… [serves as] a reminder that armed conflict brings us closer to the precipice of catastrophic warming,” noted Dr Patrick Bigger, the report’s co-author and research director at the Climate and Community Project. 

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the carpet bombing of Gaza has generated an estimated 39 million tonnes of debris, the equivalent of 10 Great Pyramids of Giza. Much of this debris is potentially contaminated by heavy metals from munitions and explosive chemicals, while harbouring unexploded ordnance and unrecovered human remains.

These substances are also in danger of contaminating Gaza’s soil and groundwater. Already a ‘climate change hotspot’ disproportionately affected by long dry spells, the conflict has exacerbated the Palestinians’ lack of access to potable water.

Ninety-seven per cent of water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption, with the nitrate concentration of the densely populated area’s wells six times higher than World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. 

However, with much of Gaza’s critical water, sanitation and electricity infrastructure destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, Palestinians have had to rely on contaminated water sources to survive. This has led to the rapid spread of communicable diseases among the people of Gaza. An estimated 26 per cent of illnesses in Gaza are water-related.

In the first three months after the conflict began alone, the WHO documented 179,000 cases of acute respiratory infection, 55,400 cases of scabies and 4,600 cases of jaundice. An 11 June report by UNICEF placed almost 3,000 children in Southern Gaza at risk of dying of severe acute malnutrition alone.

“As the world grapples with the dual crises of climate change and military conflicts, understanding and mitigating the environmental impact of warfare is crucial,” said Dr Benjamin Neimark, senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London.

Dr Bigger also went on to highlight that all the above were more than enough grounds for the global community to call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire.

It is estimated that the carbon costs of rebuilding Gaza will entail a total emissions figure higher than the annual emissions of over 135 countries.

Global military operations account for about 5.5 per cent of the world’s annual carbon emissions. According to the Scientists for Global Responsibilities, if the world’s militaries were a country it would have the fourth largest national carbon footprint in the world – outpacing even Russia.

Conflict, climate migration

It is amidst this humanitarian and environmental devastation that the residents of Quezon City’s “Little Gaza” uprooted themselves and their families for safety. Many are professionals, with biotechnology and IT lecturers, engineers and artists among their number.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that about 1.7 million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced inside the Gaza Strip by Israel’s invasion. The Philippines has welcomed at least 170 Palestinian and Filipino-Palestinian refugees since November 2023.

The Philippines has had a long history of opening its doors to disenfranchised migrants and persecuted refugees. Currently, there are two proposed pieces of legislation in Congress lobbying for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the country: the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Act or Senate Bill 2548 and House Bill 10490, which aims to amend the country’s Immigration Act to allow the entry of foreign climate migrants on humanitarian grounds.

Assistant professor Absari also said the Philippines would likely be disproportionately affected if the conflict in Gaza continues and spreads. Israel also mounted targeted airstrikes on Iran in April this year.

This concerns over 1.96 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) worldwide, where 23 per cent are working in Saudi Arabia, 14 per cent in the United Arab Emirates, 6 per cent in Kuwait and 5 per cent in Qatar.

There are currently also over a thousand Filipinos in Iran, some 30,000 OFWs in Israel and still over 100 Filipinos in Palestine.

OFWs’ remittances contribute significantly to the Philippines’ economy, reaching up to US$37.2 billion anually, and their repatriation should conflicts in the Middle East spread, could have a devastating result for the country’s GDP.

“We can no longer sit idly by,” Absari told Eco-Business. “In any little way we can, we should support humanitarian efforts. At the very least, we can help raise awareness about the experiences of the people in Gaza.”

The Moro-Palestinian Cooperation Team and the UP Institute of Islamic Studies have a handful of upcoming events to benefit the refugees of ‘Little Gaza’ – including art exhibitions, halal food festivals and Arabic language classes. Readers may visit their official pages for more details.

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