Gaza hospital chosen for solar power project

16 April 2013

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Doctors use a mobile phone for light as they treat a child critically injured during Israel’s attacks on Gaza last November.

(Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

Power cuts can affect Gaza hospitals so badly that medical operations sometimes have to be carried out under the faint light provided by doctors’ mobile phones.

Eager to improve this situation, a Gaza-based scientist has teamed up with an international group to undertake a renewable energy project for the health sector.

Its aim is to provide 168 solar panels and other equipment for Jenin Hospital in al-Shajaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City.

Densely populated

Haitham Ghanem, the scientist behind the project, said his team decided to focus on this site “simply because this sole hospital lies in the densely-populated al-Shajaiyeh neighborhood and serves 250,000 inhabitants, who are frequently exposed to Israeli violence from the adjacent border areas.”

Dr. Hisham Murtaja, deputy-chief of the hospital, said that he was “very happy” that the three-story hospital had been chosen.

“We continue to suffer from the power outrage problem and sometimes we happen to carry out minor surgeries by the lights of doctors’ mobile phones,” he said. “It is true that we run a power generator here, which is too costly by the way. But still we continue to often suffer from maintenance problems, as well as the problem of providing gasoline for the power generator itself.”

The project is the result of contacts initiated a few years ago between Ghanem, a 47-year-old physics and mechanical engineering graduate living in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, and Barbara Capone, an Italian scientist living in Austria.

“Barbara asked me, how can we help the people of Gaza?” said Ghanem. “At first, I had no immediate answer but four days later, I came back with the answer: finding a solution for the prolonged power outages across the territory. I started searching and brainstorming until Barbara and I agreed on helping a Gaza hospital sort out the problem of electricity shortages.”

Independent

Known as Sunshine4Palestine (sunshine4palestine.com), the project aims to launch in early 2014. It has a target of raising $215,000 in donations by then. Achieving this target could require much effort, as the project now has just $7,000 in its coffers.

The project will require construction of a new roof for the hospital, at an estimated cost of $38,500. By storing power harnessed from the sun in batteries, the system should be able to power the hospital throughout the day and night.

According to Capone, Jenin Hospital now consumes about 40 megawatts of electricity per year. The project, however, should double its capacity.

Perhaps more importantly, the project should mean that the hospital will become independent of Gaza’s main power plant. That plant has long relied on supplies from Israel. The siege imposed by Israel in 2006 has had adverse consequences for the supply of power, with Israel deliberately restricting the amount available.

Capone believes that solar energy could help relieve Gaza’s power problems. “In Europe such panels have increasingly become widespread and many countries, including Italy have invested a lot in such installations that are cheap and environment friendly,” she said.

“It is true that the Israeli siege of Gaza continues and would likely hinder delivery of the raw materials for the project, but we are planning to ship the materials through an Egyptian seaport then to Gaza,” she explained.

“Also, we will make sure that local staff are trained by internationals, even in Gaza itself, so we will avoid any delays on maintenance of the panels, once they are running. The plant will be made of high-quality Canadian products and will likely be sustained for 25 years.”

Editor’s note: this article has been corrected regarding the number of solar panels the project aims to install.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.