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What a waste

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By Nicole Johnston

As you approach Gaza's main dump by road you see a massive wall of trash looming over the plain.

It's crawling with around one hundred scavenger dogs and dozens of poor children, combing through the trash for anything they can sell.

In this cesspit of disease is 20 percent of all the donated medicine Gaza has received since the end of the January 2009 war with Israel.

The Health Ministry in the deposed government of Hamas and the World Health Organisation say this aid had already expired or was close to expiring, before it arrived in Gaza.

So now officials are left with the job of disposing of it. But how? Gaza doesn't have the proper facilities to do it, so it's dumped in a landfill and bulldozed along with the rest of the garbage.

Millions of dollars of aid – going to waste.

Men use their bare hands to push boxes of medicine off the back of a truck, into the dump. The stench is disgusting and flies are everywhere.

Not only are donors sending expired medicine, the Health Ministry says most of the aid they receive is unsuitable, poor quality, and the wrong types of drugs.

As for medical equipment, doctors say it's often outdated, up to 10 years old, broken, and incompatible with the local electricity supply.

In total, the Ministry claims they have to dispose of 70 percent of all the medical aid they've received in the last 18 months.

A dumping ground for aid?

One doctor told us he believes Gaza has become a dumping ground for aid. But Gaza isn't alone. He says sometimes medicine is sent to El Arish in Egypt, before going overland to Gaza. When Gaza’s officials are told it's expired, they reject it, and it's then sent to Darfur in Sudan!

The Health Ministry says two months ago it received $2 million worth of Tamiflu drugs for the H1N1 virus, enough for a third of Gaza's population.  The ministry didn't want these drugs, saying the H1N1 threat had passed. So the Tamiflu is also in the rubbish dump now.

They also say sometimes donors send huge supplies of drugs, more than Gaza could use in five years. Unable to get through it all, it expires and has to be dumped.

Co-ordination with Hamas

Dr Ehab Hjazi, the Head of the Donations Committee in the Health Ministry for the deposed government of Hamas, says if countries and organisations co-ordinated with the ministry directly, they would find out exactly what Gaza needs. And the list is long. Hospitals are critically short of 115 drugs, including antibiotics and cancer drugs.

But while Hamas is listed in many countries as a 'terrorist' group, donors' hands are tied. If they deal with Hamas, they risk being banned and losing their funding.

However, donors can find out what Gaza needs from the World Health Organisation.

So it''s time for the international community to get it right.

Sending millions of dollars worth of aid may give a country or Non Government Organisation (NGO) some positive short-term publicity.  But if it's ending up in landfill where children and dogs sift through it, then it's more than a problem for the people of Gaza, it's an insult.

Nicole Johnston is a Doha based reporter. She has been with the network almost five years with stints in London, Kenya, Jerusalem and Gaza. Prior to Al Jazeera, Nicole was a reporter with ABC Australia for 7 years.

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