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Growing Electricity Crisis in Gaza

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

January 11, 2017

A Palestinian boy stands amidst the rubble of his home in al-Tufah, in the east of Gaza City on July 27, 2015, during a power outage. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 15 hours of electricity outage a day for the past two weeks due to fuel and power shortages. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS
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Palestinians say three babies died from power outages

Ashraf Shanan is one of the lucky ones in the densely populated Gaza Strip. He has a one-volt generator for when the electricity is out in Gaza, as it is most days for 20 – 22 hours. It costs about $10 to run for ten hours and it’s noisy.

“This is the worst I can ever remember it,” Shanan told The Media Line. “People are freaking out. For the last few days my kids have had school exams, so in order for them to study, I turned the generator on. But it’s really noisy and then my neighbors complain about the noise.”

These days the almost two million resident of the Gaza Strip have only a few hours of electricity per day. Those who don’t have generators huddle in the cold, while those who do have to bear the extra expense.
When the electricity comes on, even if it’s the middle of the night, residents rush to make the best use of the power that they can.

“Last night it came on after midnight so I woke up and I turned on the water heater for a shower,” Adnan Abu Hasna, the spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) told The Media Line. “My wife came downstairs to run the washing machine. We are in a hurry because if you only have two or three hours, you must benefit to the maximum.”

Palestinian media reported that three babies died over the past two days in Gaza due to the electricity crisis. One of the babies, who died in the Burej refugee camp, was just twelve days old. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the matter is under investigation.

There is also a shortage of cooking gas, which used to come in by underground tunnels from Egypt. Now many of those tunnels have been closed, and residents of Gaza say they are either cooking on open fires or easting cold food like sandwiches.

The Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas which rules Gaza have traded blame for the growing crisis. Many in Gaza say the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the crisis became officials in Ramallah have refused to lift the tax on kerosene, which the Gaza power plant needs to manufacture electricity. However, Palestinian Labor Minister Ma’moun Abu Shahla said that Hamas is to blame.

In an interview with Voice of Palestine radio, he said the Palestinian Authority spends $260 million for the residents of Gaza, but Hamas imposes additional tariffs and taxes.

Some also blame Israel which continues to control the borders in and out of Gaza, a claim Israeli officials reject.

“Gaza’s electricity dilemma stems from internal affiers between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror organization that controls the Gaza Strip,” a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, known as COGAT told The Media Line. “Any transfer of fuel to operate the Gaza Strip’s power plant is in accordance with the request of the Palestinian Authority who purchases the fuel needed and determined by them. Typically, the power plant produces 60 megawatts depending on diesel fuel and fuel purchased by the PA, which constitutes half of the plant’s ability to supply electricity.”

In the statement, COGAT added a dig at Hamas.

“It should be noted that despite the tax collection instituted by Hamas, there is not enough electricity for Gaza residents, but we are certain that electricity in the tunnels operate 24/7,” they said.

Israeli officials say they are happy to export more cooking gas to Gaza, but need to make sure that it cannot be used for weapons. The Palestinian press said they are buying new equipment for the Kerem Shalom crossing point that will make checking the cooking gas shipment easier. There is no word yet on when that equipment will begin functioning.

When it comes to electricity, there is simply not enough of it. In a statement, the Gaza electricity company said that out of the 600 megawatts of power needed for daily life in Gaza, less than 150 are available.

Gaza also buys about 120 megawatts from Israel, and 28 megawatts from Egypt. Nearly 70 percent of Gazans do not pay their electricity bill, either because they do not have money, or because Hamas is not enforcing collection.

“People say I have to buy diesel or gasoline for my generator, or I bought solar panels so why should I pay the power company,” Shanan said.

Because of the fuel shortages, Gaza’s sewer treatment facilities are unable to operate well, and up to 90 million liters of partially treated sewage are being discharged into the Mediterranean Sea every day.
Much of Gaza’s water is already undrinkable, and in refugee camps, sewage runs in the streets. Gaza’s unemployment is increasing every year, and now reaches about 40 percent.

Palestinians say that the lack of electricity and cooking gas is making an already difficult life harder.
“The kids in Gaza are living a miserable life,” Shannon said.

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