Impact of electricity crisis in Gaza: reduced water quality, additional untreated sewage pumped into the sea and hospitals on the brink of stopping essential services

Gaza’s sole power plant out of commission. The power shortage in Gaza is preventing operation of water pumping stations and sewage treatment facilities. Hospitals will be forced to discontinue essential services within a week.

Gaza’s sole power plant out of commission. Photo by Gisha.

April 25, 2017. The electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is causing havoc and threatening the lives and well-being of Gaza’s nearly two million residents. Gaza’s sole power plant has been out of commission for more than a week. A dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the de facto Hamas authorities over fuel taxation has impeded the plant’s standard operations, since funds donated by Turkey and Qatar designated for purchase of fuel were exhausted.

As a result of the shortage, power is supplied in cycles of six hours on, 12 hours off (for a total of eight hours per day). According to Mohammad Thabet, spokesperson for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCo), power supply is often insufficient even for six-hour intervals, with additional outages occurring where capacity falls short of demand. The worst of the summer heat and the month of Ramadan are around the corner.

The acute shortage in power also affects the availability of water for household use, with supply being dangerously low. According to Maher Najjar, deputy director of the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), water pumps are only working at 50 to 60 percent capacity; water is currently supplied to most districts in Gaza once every five days, instead of every other day, as was previously the case. Water desalination stations, which also require electricity, are operating at 30 percent capacity, resulting in even poorer quality of water than usual and increasing the risk of environmental and health hazards.

The authorities responsible for water treatment find themselves facing inconceivable dilemmas. For instance, they have been forced to shut down sewage treatment facilities and pump additional untreated sewage into the sea (roughly 110 million liters per day), using the scant electricity available to remove sewage from neighborhoods and prevent flooding. Generators only provide a partial solution as they cannot operate without interruption and they too require fuel.

The United Nations’ Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that if this severe power shortage continues, all 14 public hospitals in Gaza will be forced to shut down essential services. Fuel reserves for hospital generators will run out within a week, OCHA cautioned.

The consensus in Gaza is that a solution for this crisis is nowhere on the horizon, despite the fact that it poses a real threat to the lives of residents. The situation requires immediate mobilization of all actors responsible for living conditions in Gaza. Israel maintains control over many aspects of civilian life in Gaza and is many regards responsible for the degradation of Gaza’s infrastructure. As the primary bearer of control over Gaza for the last 50 years, Israel must take immediate action toward finding a solution, rather than merely commenting on the situation.

It is important to note that the current crisis didn’t come as a surprise nor was it unexpected. It is the result of decades of neglect and decline. More information on the state of Gaza’s electricity, water and sewage infrastructure is available in a report we published earlier this year, Hand on the Switch. Crisis management is not an adequate response. All actors involved – the de facto authorities in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the international community and, especially, Israel – must cooperate to restore and improve Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and allow its residents to lead normal lives, rather than waiting for the next foreseeable crisis.