Electricity outages lead to bread shortages

Workers in Gaza. Photo: Eman Mohammed

Workers in Gaza. Photo: Eman Mohammed

July 31, 2014. Most areas of Gaza are completely without electricity. True to yesterday, only one high tension line bringing electricity purchased from Israel was functioning. Parts of Gaza City and Deir Al Balah have been without power for 48 hours. As a result, food storage is impaired. The ongoing hostilities have also made it difficult for stores to receive goods and re-stock their shelves. Shortages and difficulties in transport of goods are especially pronounced in Gaza City, to where many people have been displaced by the fighting.

Infrastructure

Much of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has been damaged in the bombardment of the Strip. Last Tuesday, fuel stores at the power plant were hit and several gas stations have also been damaged leading to long lines at those that are still operating. Gas stations sell diesel, needed to run generators, and sometimes cooking gas in addition to of course supplying gasoline.

Among the factories damaged in bombardments was the Al Awada factory, belonging to businessman Mohammed Tilbani. For lack of water, a fire that broke out at the factory as a result of the bombardment burned for two days. The fire destroyed a six month stock of supplies that Tilbani had stored in order to cope with frequent closures of Kerem Shalom and was fed by thousands of liters of fuel he had stored to run generators during long blackouts.

The factory has been producing sweets and baked goods since 1977, growing over the years and at some points employing up to 400 people. In the past, 60% of its products were sold in the West Bank and 5% in Israel. With the tightening of the closure in 2007 and the ensuing ban on exit of goods to the West Bank and Israel, the factory began operating on just 10 days per month using one production line, instead of five, and at only 35% of its normal capacity.

Crossings

Kerem Shalom, the only goods crossing to Gaza, operated today for the entrance of about 60 truckloads of goods and 18 truckloads of fuel. Israel does not limit the amount of food, fuel or medicine that can enter Gaza, however, it limits entrance of goods to these categories, plus some other humanitarian products, such as mattresses and blankets. Gisha learned today that clothing and shoes are supposed to enter next week.

Rafah Crossing was open between 9am and 3pm for casualties of the military operation and people with foreign passports or residency status. The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo reports that 122 casualties of the military operation are currently receiving medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals.

plant had been producing 50 MW of electricity using two of its turbines

plant had been producing 50 MW of electricity using two of its turbines

July 30, 2014. The Palestinian telecommunications company, PalTel, notified that there are severe interruptions in cellular services in Gaza. In addition to the critical shortage of electricity, on which the sector is dependent, 12 cellular antennas have been damaged in the course of hostilities. Technicians had attempted to operate generators to compensate for electricity shortages, however, a technician came under fire by Israeli forces and was injured while on duty and since then, other technicians have been fearful to continue the practice. In addition, a main fiber optic cable, which provided internet and cellular services, was damaged in Shejaiya.

As a result of the destruction of the power plant, Gaza City is completely without electricity. Only one high tension line carrying electricity bought from Israel is currently functioning. Nine lines were damaged in hostilities. Rafah area residents receive approximately five hours of electricity per day via lines from Egypt and Khan Younis receives almost an hour and a half of electricity per day. Hundreds of thousands of people are completely cut off from electricity supply, thus also affecting their access to running water and sanitation services.

According to officials with the electric company, the fastest way to restore electricity supply to Gaza would be to fix the high tension lines supplying electricity which Gaza purchases from Israel. The lack of electricity impacts all areas of life. Generators cannot be run for more than 8-10 hours at a time, rendering it difficult to refrigerate and store food and there is also concern about the availability of bread given that many bakeries have closed due to lack of electricity.

Aid agencies in Gaza reported that the number of internally displaced persons has risen to 240,000, with more than 200,000 of these taking shelter in United Nations schools. Others have taken shelter in government schools, with family members and friends, and thousands have also congregated in the streets and around public institutions, such as Shifa Hospital.

Crossings

Kerem Shalom, the only goods crossing to Gaza, operated today between 10am and 3pm for the entrance of 60 truckloads of goods and 13 truckloads of fuel.

Erez Crossing operated in a limited capacity for the transit of three casualties of the military operation and one medical patient. Foreign citizens, mainly journalists, crossed in both directions.

Rafah Crossing was open between 9am and 3pm for casualties of the military operation and people with foreign passports or residency status. The number of casualties transiting via Egypt is relatively small, either because of the difficulty inherent in coordinating exit or the difficulty in reaching the crossing during ongoing hostilities. Since the start of the military operation at least 94 individuals have transited to Egyptian hospitals via Rafah.

July 29, 2014. Last night and this morning, Gaza’s sole power plant was damaged in direct hits by Israeli forces. This morning, fuel containers at the plant were hit, causing a large fire and rendering the plant inoperative. According to the Palestinian Energy Authority, repairs could take months to complete. The plant had been producing 50 MW of electricity using two of its turbines. Currently 28 MW are entering from Egypt and 36 MW are entering through three high-tension lines from Israel. The demand for electricity stands at 350 MW. In other words, the current supply meets just 18% of demand.

Last week, two turbines and offices at the plant were also damaged, reportedly in Israeli airstrikes. The plant was closed for a day following those strikes.

Crossings

Kerem Shalom Crossing was open today between 9am and 3pm for entrance of food, fuel and medicine. Though 150 truckloads of goods were expected to enter, it appears that not all the trucks managed to enter the crossing. Eleven truckloads of diesel, gasoline and cooking gas entered. Industrial diesel for the power plant had been scheduled to enter, however after the strikes to the plant, the order was rescinded and orders will not be renewed until the plant is repaired.

Rafah Crossing operated from 9am to 3pm for the transit of casualties of the military operation, and holders of foreign residency and citizenship. 

Hospitals

Hospitals are reportedly collapsing under the strain of treating many casualties of the ongoing hostilities. More than 6,000 individuals have been wounded in hostilities and the medical system in Gaza had already been experiencing a chronic lack of medicine and medical supplies. Before the hostilities began, 28% of essential medicines were at zero stock in additional to 53% of medical supplies and equipment, and the situation has only deteriorated since. The United Nations also reports that 22 medical facilities and hospitals have sustained damaged in the hostilities. 

Water

Approximately 1.2 million people do not have adequate access to water. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility is providing water to UNRWA schools, where over 180,000 people are taking shelter, via tankers. CMWU estimates that the value of damage to water and sewage infrastructure runs at approximately $10 million dollars. Individuals in Gaza told Gisha that water is difficult to come by and that some people have approached fire stations for water.

In private homes, most of which are in multi-story buildings, people have to wait for rolling blackouts to end, as electricity is needed to pump water up to their homes.

Photo: Sewage in Gaza. Photo: Eman Mohammed

Photo: Sewage in Gaza. Photo: Eman Mohammed

July 28, 2014. During the humanitarian pause in hostilities on Saturday, some repairs were done within Gaza to damaged water, sewage and electricity infrastructure. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) reported that it had managed to repair some smaller pipelines but that the overall availability of water and ability to treat sewage remains the same: over 1 million people do not have adequate access to water.

CMWU gave an initial estimate that the value of the damage to water and sewage infrastructure currently stands at around $10 million. Some repairs could be made relatively quickly, in a matter of months, while they estimate that some damage, primarily in areas that have been extensively bombarded such as Shujaiya and Beit Hanoun, could take years.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that water and sewage networks are also being impacted by lack of electricity and fuel, which are needed to pump water to homes and tall apartment buildings and pump sewage to treatment plants. Concerns remain regarding mixing of sewage with piped water and ensuing public health risks.

Electricity

The Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation (GEDCo) and the Palestinian Energy Authority reported to Gisha that as of yesterday morning all 10 high tension lines were not functioning due to damage sustained in ongoing hostilities. Repairs were made to three lines yesterday and are currently being made to two additional lines. Yesterday, Sunday, a technician crew reported firing by Israeli forces in the area where they were attempting to make repairs forcing them to flee.

At present, with three lines functioning, 36 megawatts of electricity are entering from Israel, 28 MW from Egypt and 50 are being generated locally at the power plant, or in other words, 114 MW out of about 350 MW of demand – a 67% shortage. Electricity outages average approximately 20 hours per day, while some areas are completely without electricity.

Crossings 

Kerem Shalom Crossing, which was supposed to be closed today due to the Eid-al Fitr holiday, was opened for the transfer of medicine to Gaza.  Since the start of the military operation, July 8, an average of 81 truckloads of goods have entered Gaza per day, compared to 194 truckloads per day during the month of June, (a decrease of 58%) as well as 22 truckloads of fuel compared to 41 truckloads per day in June (a decrease of 46%). Since the start of the operation, Israel has limited the types of goods that can enter Gaza to food items, medicine and fuel. In the past days, other items to meet humanitarian needs have entered, such as mattresses and blankets, both for the private sector and for international aid organizations.

At Erez Crossing, 32 casualties of the military operation and their companions and a small number of people with foreign citizenship exited Gaza, while 164 medical patients and their companions entered the Strip from Israel.

Rafah Crossing was open today for exit of casualties of the military operations and holders of foreign passports and residency status.

Not all the goods that were expected to enter did. Photo: Eman Mohammed

Not all the goods that were expected to enter did. Photo: Eman Mohammed

July 27, 2014. Erez Crossing operated today for the exit of three medical patients from Gaza, as well as for the entrance and exit of foreign citizens, mainly journalists. Yesterday, the crossing was open exceptionally at 11am for transit of a small number of pre-approved cases.

Kerem Shalom Crossing operated today from 9am – 2:30pm, though it was supposed to be open until 5pm. As a result, not all the goods that were expected to enter did. About 70 truckloads of goods crossed, in addition to 330,000 liters of industrial diesel for the power plant, 160,000 liters of diesel for the private sector, 120 tons of cooking gas and 143,000 liters of gasoline.

The crossing operated on Friday for the entrance of fuel only: 250,000 liters of industrial diesel, 250,000 liters of diesel for the private sector, and 84 tons of cooking gas.

Kerem Shalom is expected to be closed tomorrow for the Muslim holiday, Eid al Fitr and to re-open on Tuesday.

Rafah Crossing opened today and yesterday for casualties of the military operation and holders of foreign passports and residency status. On Friday, Egypt also allowed 16 truckloads of medicine and medical equipment into Gaza.

Since July 8 and until last Thursday (July 24) Kerem Shalom operated on 13 days of 16 days in a restricted format for the entrance of food, fuel and medicine. During this time, 1,311 truckloads of goods entered Gaza, including 273 truckloads of fuel.