Listen: Solar panels on Gaza hospitals aim to ease healthcare disaster

Gaza’s sole power plant, which was bombed by Israel last summer and working at minimum capacity already, was reportedly forced to shut down last weekend due to fuel shortages.

Ma’an News Agency reported last week that the Gaza energy authority blamed the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority for “reducing the plant’s fuel share.”

“The plant was shut down for a month earlier this year after the Gazan energy authority was unable to afford the taxes demanded by the PA for importing fuel into besieged Gaza,” Ma’an reported.

As the PA reduces already-minimal fuel supplies to Gaza, Israel and Egypt maintain a tight blockade against the basic needs of 1.7 million Palestinians.

During last summer’s attacks on Gaza by Israel, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinian women, men and children and injured thousands more, much of the infrastructure was destroyed or damaged. Electricity remains intermittent, affecting homes, schools, businesses, clinics and hospitals.

Working to address the need for electricity specifically in the healthcare field, a team of Canada-based physicians has paired up with four major hospitals in the Gaza Strip to install solar panels and provide reliable energy 24 hours a day to emergency rooms, intensive care units and operating theaters.

The physicians say that with a lack of reliable electricity, patients in need of medical care are made vulnerable and are put at risk.

Key concerns

Dr. Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician based in London, Ontario, has worked with doctors at al-Shifa hospital for years. Al-Shifa is the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Loubani told The Electronic Intifada that the solar panel project, called EmpowerGAZA, aims to address “the key concerns” that physicians in Gaza and international doctors working alongside them have experienced.

“Electricity cuts out for very long periods of time, and it cuts out unpredictably,” Loubani said. “Not only do we suffer when the electricity is out, but we start behaving differently as doctors all the time, because we don’t know when the electricity will cut.”

Doctors end up rushing through medical procedures, he said.

In a video interview conducted by Loubani in Gaza, Dr. Medhat Abbas of al-Shifa hospital says that some clinics can only afford to operate expensive fuel-run generators just a few hours a day.

“The rest of the time, we are without electricity because we don’t have any source of energy or we do not have [enough] funds to procure fuel for generators in those clinics,” Abbas says.

With help from Japan, solar panels have been installed on the roof of al-Shifa in order to power their intensive care unit. In a video appeal for EmpowerGAZA, Loubani explains that “since they turned on, the intensive care unit has not had a single minute of downtime.” The project aims to replicate al-Shifa’s solar power installation at other hospitals.

Sustainable care

EmpowerGAZA has begun to install solar panels in four hospitals around the Gaza Strip — including the al-Rantisi pediatric hospital that houses a neonatal intensive care unit — to keep the electricity going inside emergency rooms, intensive care units, operating theaters and dialysis clinics.

Palestinian healthcare workers and policy makers in Gaza selected which hospitals were in the most need for solar panels, Loubani told The Electronic Intifada.

“Ultimately, we want to cover all of the public hospitals where patients are free to come and receive care,” he added.

Physicians and engineers say they are working with the United Nations Development Program and the Gaza health ministry to make sure the project and the solar panels are able to be easily repaired and made with sustainable hardware that will last for years.

Loubani said that the solar panels will address some of the most basic needs that healthcare workers have for their patients in Gaza. But he called the overall medical situation a “disaster” as life-saving medications and medical equipment are still being restricted under Israel’s blockade.

“Things have only gotten worse,” Loubani said. “The ability to generate that kind of instant inflow of medications, and the ability to get them in — the Israelis are not feeling the heat right now like they were before.”

The doctors in Gaza, he said, “really understand that the solutions have to be indigenous there. We can’t wait for the Israelis to feel a change of heart and start allowing supplies in.”

Listen to the interview with Dr. Tarek Loubani via the media player above.




It is heartening to see that the Japanese have done this. It is very hard to keep running generators with fuels even for small clinics as the total power requirement is very high with all their equipments. Numerous equipments in the hospitals requires power supply for 24 x 7 and this challenge is tackled efficiently here. It is praise worthy.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).