Trigger Happy on the Light Switch

What’s it like to spend at least one-third, if not the whole day, without electricity? One and a half million people have been living like that for over a week in what is just the latest chapter in the ongoing electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. If there is a common theme that persists throughout this saga, it is the perpetual, imposed sense of “living on the edge“.

In November, the European Union, which funds the industrial diesel needed  to operate Gaza’s only  power station, announced that in a joint decision with the Palestinian Authority (PA), its funding worth 97 million Euros per year would end, due in part to the global economic crisis. Despite the fact that it warned of its intentions months in advance, no alternative arrangement was made, although some European states have expressed willingness to provide funding for the PA to cover the cost of the diesel. In the meantime, the Gaza power station was forced to limit itself to an output of just 30 megawatts, almost a third of its potential generation capacity (80 megawatts). According to media reports, another factor that is hampering resolution of the funding issue is the internal Palestinian conflict and the PA’s demand that Hamas contribute to the costs or collect money from consumers. The PA is effectively inviting Hamas, which has not previously been involved in electricity generation in Gaza, to play an active role in the procurement and funding of the industrial diesel supply for Gaza’s power plant. This week, the power plant increased production to 60 megawatt after receiving additional fuel deliveries, but it is not clear whether a solution has been found.

Gaza Power Plant

Gaza Power Plant

Indeed, it seems that all the players in this drama are exploiting a need as basic and obvious as electricity in order to promote their political objectives. Despite the fact that the power station is clearly a vital civilian infrastructure, despite the fact that it is largely privately owned, and despite the fact that the industrial diesel is used solely to operate the power station’s turbines, Israel decided to bomb the station in 2006, inflicting damage which has yet to be fully repaired. Moreover, since 2007, Israel has limited the transfer of industrial diesel to the Gaza Strip to a “minimum” that it set at 2.2 million liters per week, despite the fact that in reality 3.5 million liters are required for the present maximum output of the power station.

The Israeli policy of “reduction to the minimum” means that the power station has no ability to stockpile reserves of industrial diesel to prepare for interruption of supply. So when supply is interrupted, this time due to funding problems and the conflict within the Palestinian leadership, 1.5 million people need to learn to live with power outages for 8 hours or more per day.

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