Bethlehem - Ma'an - A massive sewage flood, caused by the impact of an Israeli shell striking a treatment plant in Gaza, is visible from outer space according to satellite images released by the United Nations this week.
The images, released on Tuesday by the UN's Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT) show an impact crater in a sewage reservoir in the Sheikh Ajleen area, southeast of Gaza City, from an Israeli shell that exploded in the second week of the Israeli offensive on Gaza in January.
The shell "caused a massive outflow of sewage, moving an estimated total distance of 1.2km," UNOSAT said.
UNOSAT used imagery with a special resolution of two meters.
The sewage treatment plant in Sheikh Ajleen is Gaza's largest, treating raw sewage from some 400,000 people. It has been out of operation since early January.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which sent a field team with Palestinian engineers to Sheikh Ajleen, "raw sewage poured directly into residential areas, agricultural lands and the Mediterranean Sea, posing a serious public health threat."
The ICRC and Palestinian team repaired a main sewage pipeline on 22 January, "but extensive repair work needs to be carried out before the treatment plant is fully operational."
In a statement released on Thursday, the ICRC said that repair efforts "have been hampered by delays in obtaining approval from the Israeli authorities to bring in pipes and spare parts for Sheikh Ajleen and other water treatment plants."
"The first thing people ask us for is water and electricity", says Marek Komarzynski, an ICRC water engineer. "That is what they need to lead anything like normal lives."
Gaza's water infrastructure was already in a dilapidated condition before the war due to the Israeli blockade of the Strip since June 2007.
"Of course it is an emergency situation," says Farid Ashour, site manager with the Coastal Municipalities Water Unit. "We are all suffering from the closures and we are suffering from the lack of materials."
In late March 2007 a massive wastewater reservoir burst its banks in the northern Gaza Strip, causing a deluge that killed six people.