Environmental action leading to positive change in society
PROFESSOR JAMAL M. SAFI
In the late 1980s, Prof. Jamal M. Safi recognized the poor health and environmental and protection situation in the Palestinian territory (Gaza Strip and West Bank). Unlike many others he decided to care abut this situation, and, as a consequence, he founded the Environmental Protection and Research Institute in Gaza City. He started to submit proposals for applied and fundamental research projects which were suited to contribute to the improvement of the health and environmental protection situation in his country. His grant applications to different international organizations were highly successful during the last about thirteen years. In the research projects, among other, Prof. Safi developed methods for screening blood samples in the Palestinian hospitals’ blood banks for hepatitis and other infectious diseases, for screening the environment for insects and their larvae which convey infectious diseases, for screening soils and crops for heavy metals, for the use of sustainable agricultural techniques, and for bio remediation of polluted (saline) waters. One of the main aspects of these scientific and technical developments was that they had to be simply and easy to apply so that they could be used by people with limited training in an low-tech environment. In addition, Prof. Safi and his coworkers offered training courses to improve the skills of his compatriots who were to use the techniques developed in his institute.
Prof. Safi’s projects over the years have substantially improved environmental health within the Palestinian community. The formerly burdensome housefly and mosquito problems in the Gaza Strip have each been reduced 5-fold. The prevalence of hepatitis B was reduced from 6% to 3.3% and hepatitis C from 2.6 to 0.4%. Overall childhood lead poisoning was reduced from about 5% to 0.3%. Overall frequency of parasitic enteropathogens was reduced substantially; ascariasis, for example, was reduced from a prevalence of 60% to 37% in these children, and the density of eggs in soil from 10 eggs per 100g of soil to 3.3 over a five-year period. The cyanobacteria mats that were developed degraded aromatic petroleum-model compounds by 99% and aliphatic petroleum-model compounds by 86% within 100 days. Pesticide residuals in fruits and vegetables that are marketed in Gaza proved to lie within internationally acceptable limits. Heavy metal content in Gaza-produced compost over a period of five years and in the plants and groundwater associated with this fertilizer remained below internationally accepted standards. The organoclays that were developed blocked leaching of pesticides into groundwater almost completely. Trainees completing Prof. Safi’s courses included 150 school teachers, 120 agricultural engineers and 15 specialists in refugee health. These remarkable accomplishments are outstanding under any conditions and are truly remarkable, considering the difficult circumstances under which they were performed. Prof. Safi’s work has made a real difference in the lives of the Palestinian people and in their environment.