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Growing Electricity Crisis in Gaza

April 27, 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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Power down to four hours per day

For the past two weeks, the almost two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have had only four hours of electricity per day, followed by 12 hours of no power. Residents in Gaza and organizations like the World Bank say the trip is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.

The Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip blames the Palestinian Authority, which has informed Israel that it will stop paying Israel for electricity that it supplies to Gaza, which is expected to intensify the crisis further. Gaza’s only power plant shut down two weeks ago, and Gaza’s energy authority said it will not purchase more electricity until the Palestinian Authority grants it a full exemption from excise taxes on fule, which increase the total cost to 150 percent of the base cost.

“This  intensified crisis is already putting the lives and well-being of residents at risk, dangerously lowering the supply of water, affecting sewage treatment facilities and leading to a shutdown of essential services, including at public hospitals,” Shai Grunberg, the spokesperson for Gisha, an Israeli NGO told The Media Line. “Cutting electricity supply any further would have catastrophic consequences for Gaza’s two million residents. It’s a red line that cannot be crossed.”

Palestinians who live in high-rise buildings in Gaza are especially affected. When there is no electricity, elevators do not work. In addition, electric water pumps cannot bring water up to higher floors. In addition, as there is no electricity to run a waste-water treatment plant, Palestinians are dumping 110,000 liters per day of untreated sewage into the Red Sea.

“That means that you can’t swim in the Red Sea and you can’t fish,” Mohammed Thabet, the spokesperson for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company told The Media Line. “It also means that sometimes my kids can’t do their homework if there’s no electricity.”

The crisis comes as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets President Trump in Washington next week, and media reports say President Trump is planning a visit to the Middle East in May or early June, where he may announce a new Mideast peace initiative. Abbas, the leader of the Fatah movement, is locked in a power struggle with new Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, and is using economic pressure to get Hamas to submit to his authority. Palestinians say that Israel has used the split between Hamas and Fatah to avoid making any concessions.

Earlier this month, Abbas announced it would cut the salaries it pays Fatah’s civil servants in Gaza by 30 percent. Most of these employees have not worked since 2007, when Hamas violently took over Gaza. But paying these salaries has injected money into the Gaza economy, and Abbas decided to change this to pressure Hamas.

In a new report, the World Bank said it is concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“In Gaza there are a number of serious issues,” Marina Wes, the World Bank’s West Bank and Gaza Country Director told The Media Line. “Closely linked to the electricity crisis is the issue of water — not only is the quantity of water in Gaza an issue but the quality is extremely poor. A third concern is the high youth unemployment rate which is around 60 percent. Creating jobs for young people is critical to the future of Gaza and to stability more broadly.”

The electricity cuts come just before the beginning of the intense summer heat in Gaza, and the month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of May.

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