Shortage of fuel for generators impacts basic services in Gaza

A hospital in Gaza. Photo by Eman Mohammed.

January 22, 2019. A shortage of fuel used to operate generators when the power grid is off is impacting medical facilities and basic services like water distribution and waste disposal in the Strip.

According to the Coastal Municipality Water Utility (CMWU), essential services such as water distribution to households, waste disposal, and rain-water removal, have already declined significantly. Yesterday the Health Ministry in Gaza said that five of fourteen major medical facilities in Gaza are in immediate danger of closing altogether. Over the weekend, the generator at the hospital in Beit Hanun was stopped due to the lack of fuel, halting all surgery, lab testing and diagnostic imaging provided by the hospital. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), several hospitals have already been forced to suspend essential medical services during hours when the power grid is shut off; current fuel reserves are expected to sustain critical hospital services for only a few more days.

Since 2013, the WHO and the United Nations agencies working in Gaza have funded and supplied fuel for generators used in hospitals across the Strip. In late September 2018, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) made available 1.5 million USD to fund fuel for generators used in the health sector and for water and sewage infrastructure in the Strip, which was expected to last until November 2018. The Qatari government’s donation of fuel for Gaza’s power plant has meant that the OCHA-funded fuel for generators had lasted for longer than anticipated, until recently.

Though the increase in electricity from Gaza’s power grid had initially brought supply up to about 16 hours per day, weather conditions have led to an increase in demand; residents are currently receiving about 10-12 hours per 24-hour period. According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, at current levels of supply from the grid, the health sector needs approximately 300 thousand liters of fuel per month.

Importantly, the current crisis is nothing but unexpected. The erratic and insufficient supply of electricity from Gaza’s power grid, among other things the result of decades of neglect and decline under Israeli rule, has increased the dependency of basic civilian infrastructure in Gaza on fuel-run generators. The political impasse and fiscal disputes between de facto Hamas authorities in the Strip and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority jeopardize the lives of Gaza residents and exacerbate already difficult living conditions. All actors involved in the area – the de facto authorities in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the international community, and 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.