May 3, 2017. Gaza’s chronic power shortage has grown worse in the last weeks. With further reduction in electricity supply looming, the danger to residents is imminent. The Palestinian Authority recently notified Israel that it would stop paying for the electricity Israel supplies to the Strip (120 megawatts, provided daily via ten high-tension lines). The cost of the electricity Israel’s electrical company supplies to Gaza is deducted from taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Gaza’s sole power plant has been out of commission for more than two weeks following a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the de facto Hamas authorities over the rate of excise taxes on fuel for the plant. Without the electricity generated by the power plant, the electricity sold by Israel accounts for roughly 80 percent of the total electricity supply currently available in Gaza. Should Israel decide to cut off supply as the PA has requested, Gaza’s two million residents would be left only with electricity purchased from Egypt: 28 megawatts, which comprise roughly 13 percent of Gaza’s regular supply. Regular supply, it is important to remember, meets only about half of actual demand: even when all power sources are delivering at optimal capacity, Gaza residents have access to electricity in cycles of eight hours of supply, which are followed by eight hours of outages (for a daily average of about 12 hours supply).
A worsening of the humanitarian situation is a matter of time, considering severe disruptions in supply to water pumping stations (for household use), sewage disposal and treatment facilities, and hospitals. Essential public services cannot operate, the sea is being heavily polluted and generators are dangerously overloaded.
What does this mean for life in Gaza? Raed Sarsur, a 35-year-old farmer from Deir al-Balah, told Gisha’s field coordinator that he sometimes only gets half an hour of electricity before getting cut off again, and in any case, never more than four consecutive hours of power supply. This is why Sarsur has recently taken to sleeping out in his field, in a shed near the water well, which houses an electric generator, so that he can be there to pump as much water as possible when the electricity comes on. Power is not supplied at regular hours, so he has to remain alert at all times in order to make sure enough water is pumped to irrigate his five dunams of eggplant crops, and greenhouses containing peppers. Meanwhile, his vegetables aren’t getting enough water, impacting their quality – and this is well before the heat of summer.
If electricity supply is limited further, Sarsur, and many like him, will have no choice but to give up on their crops, and lose their livelihoods. Factories, offices and other businesses will be harmed as well. Gaza’s entire economy could grind to a halt. The inevitable deterioration in the quality and availability of water for household use, inadequate sewage disposal and increased pollution of the ocean could cause an outbreak of disease, which, like pollution itself, can’t be confined by man-made borders.
The conduct of all the parties responsible for the current situation has been deplorable. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the de-facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip are engaged in a power struggle at the expense of Gaza residents. The intervention of the international community has been ineffective, with Egypt more passive still. And Israel, the primary bearer of control over Gaza for the past 50 years, has treated this crisis as if it were nothing more than a concerned observer. The depth and severity of Israel’s control over Gaza mean nothing can change there without its approval and active involvement. As such, Israel remains accountable not only for cooperating with other actors to improve the dire state of Gaza’s infrastructure, but also for ensuring that the basic needs of Gaza’s residents are met.
Once again, we state the obvious: All parties must cooperate for effective and immediate solutions to be found. This crisis is not the result of natural disaster, it is the product of a series of decisions. Different decisions must be made, and now. Residents of Gaza have run out of time.