Dr Moawya Hassanein, head of Emergency Medicine at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, warns that the lives of thousands of patients with kidney failure who require dialysis three times a week are at risk because of power failures. “There is little we can do at hospitals for patients with heart disease, cancer, in the ICU or premature babies,” Hassanein declared. “We have power generators but no one can guarantee that they are enough or will not run out of fuel.”
There is concern in Gaza about deteriorating environmental conditions, since water treatment stations could shut down because currently they rely solely on power generators. Several have already stopped operating, resulting in sewage water flooding some streets and refugee camps.
Walid Sayel, the executive director of the Palestine Electricity Company and chairman of the Gaza Power Generation Station, called on all Arab, international and Palestinian parties to swiftly find a solution for the power outage in Gaza. “The blackout is a critical development which requires everyone to shoulder their responsibility in saving the residents of Gaza, first and foremost, for humanitarian reasons,” Sayel asserted. “The need for electricity is tantamount to the need for water and air. We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis and no one knows how it will end.”
Although some Palestinian officials claim that a partial solution has been reached to resolve the crisis, thanks to $3 million from the EU to buy fuel, it is a temporary answer which will generate electricity to some areas in Gaza for only 12 hours a day. At the same time, there are no guarantees that more funds will be available to provide electricity in Gaza, even if only partially.
The power outage has resulted in a war of words between the governments in Gaza and Ramallah. In the beginning, the government in Ramallah stated that the power cut is a result of the EU not transferring the necessary funds to buy fuel. The EU vehemently denied this, saying that it regularly and routinely sends money for fuel. The Brussels-based European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG) confirmed that the EU had transferred the necessary funds. In a recent statement, ECESG called on the Ramallah government “to stop using unrealistic excuses to evade its responsibility, and direct the needed funds to Gaza, as provided by the EU, to pay for electricity fuel in Gaza.”
The statement continued that “we have received messages from several EU foreign ministers assuring us that funds are transferred to the Fatah authorities in Ramallah, and that they have clearly pledged that they will pay for the heavy fuel needed for the power station.” ECESG condemned “manipulating the humanitarian needs of 1.5 million Palestinians in political bickering, since this could cost hundreds of Palestinians their lives, including the sick, and threatens severe humanitarian disasters.” The statement further denied claims that the EU has halted or reduced funds for fuel at the main Gaza power station, saying that payments for Palestinian service sectors are made regularly to Salam Fayyad’s government.
Meanwhile, the government in Ramallah gave different reasons why the power station has halted operations, including that the electricity company in Gaza is unable to collect fees from residents. Ghassan Al-Khateeb, director of the media office for Fayyad’s government, further accused the electricity company of pocketing the fees it does manage to collect. Al-Khateeb blamed the authorities in Gaza for not supporting or giving the electricity company enough security coverage, which curtails its ability to collect fees from the public.
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For his part, Ziyad Al-Zaza, deputy prime minister and minister of economy in Ismail Haniyeh’s cabinet in Gaza, accused the government in Ramallah of “stealing” the funds needed for Gaza’s power station. “Salam Fayyad’s government is embezzling the funds for Gaza’s electricity and sends limited amounts of solar fuel, only a third of what is needed,” stated Al-Zaza.
He asserted that his government is in consultations to import industrial solar, gasoline, regular solar and natural gas energy through the Rafah border crossing. “We do not wish to remain hostage to the occupation and its agents,” Al-Zaza retorted. “The Rafah crossing must be opened to people and commodities. We want to rely on the Arab and Muslim world, not Israeli occupation.” He further argued that the blackout is caused by a “conspiracy” against the Palestinian people in Gaza “in order to bring them to their knees and break down their willpower”.
Meanwhile, the power outage is claiming more lives. Buying a power generator is no guarantee of improving standards of living, but could result in the opposite. For instance, the three Boshr children were playing at their home in Abssan, southeast of Gaza, happy that their power generator was working at a time when the entire area was in pitch darkness. Shortly afterwards, the generator exploded, instantly killing all three. Thus, their family joined a long list of Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to exploding generators.
For many in Gaza, power generators have become time bombs at home. In Gabalaya Refugee Camp, a mother and three of her children died when the generator at their family home blew up. In other instances, gases from the generators have killed residents. Three members of the same family living in Khan Younis died after inhaling exhaust fumes containing carbon dioxide from their generator.
According to statistics by the Civil Defence Authority in Gaza, 82 fires occurred in the past three months as a result of faulty usage of power generators. Several died or suffered from burns and asphyxiation in the fires. Salem Abu Ouda, a technician who specialises in generators, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the biggest problem is that the majority of generators being smuggled into Gaza are of poor quality. Abu Ouda, who repairs tens of generators in his workshop, stated that long operating hours and substandard quality are the reasons behind these disastrous accidents.
On another plane, it was announced that the Ship Intifada will relaunch soon as a sign of intensified efforts to lift the siege on Gaza. Gamal Al-Khodari, the chairman of the Popular Committee for Confronting the Siege, revealed that some 10-20 vessels will participate in this effort, including ones from Malaysia, Turkey and Europe. Ship Intifada is scheduled to begin at the end of April or early May, depending on weather conditions.
The ships will be carrying several parliamentarians, politicians and media people from around the world, as well as much needed supplies. These include construction materials such as steel and cement, supplies to meet medical, humanitarian relief, school and children’s needs, as well as power generators. Al-Khodari hoped that the campaign would result in lifting the siege and establishing a route by sea between Gaza and the rest of the world, which would allow freedom of movement. Several vessels have already arrived in Gaza, while many were prevented by occupation forces from approaching the coast of Gaza as a result of the last war.
Source: Al-Ahram Weekly