JERUSALEM/GAZA, 17 January (IRIN) - The Israeli government decided earlier this month to permit the Gaza Strip to import industrial diesel — in similar quantities to those permitted prior to the fuel import restrictions imposed in October 2007 — but the impoverished enclave continues to suffer from power cuts.
The cuts are affecting daily life, particularly now as the region has been experiencing an uncommonly cold winter.
“We went four days without having electricity during the daytime,” said Wajihe, an elderly woman from a refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. “We had power only from midnight until 6am.”
“During the day, we try to sit in the sun to keep warm,” she told IRIN. “It’s very cold now at night. We wrap up to keep warm. Each of us has two blankets, but it is still cold.”
A family in the Bureij refugee camp said they have power for eight hours, but then it goes off for another eight, and they alternate between huddling together under blankets and using electric heaters.
For even poorer people, the problem is worse: “We had electricity for only two hours during the day yesterday,” said Um Sultan, from Beach (Shati) refugee camp. “We can’t afford to buy gas heaters, or even gas,” the widowed mother of five said. “We try using blankets to keep warm, but we don’t have enough blankets.”
Israel’s decision to cut supplies began after its cabinet in September 2007 declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile entity” due to the Islamic group Hamas’s take over of the enclave and Palestinian militants’ rocket fire, which targets southern Israel and border crossings.
Power plant operating on knife-edge
Officials in Gaza say that although Israel allowed in one extra turbine for the enclave’s power plant in December — to increase its capacity from 65 megawatts (MW) to 85, similar to the levels of production prior to an Israeli air strike on the plant in the summer of 2006 — it is not allowing the Strip to import enough fuel to run the turbine, which is idle.
Furthermore, between October 2007 and January 2008, Gaza’s power plant was forced to dip into its reserves to keep up basic levels of production. On 5 January, officials said the reserves had hit their red line and were essentially depleted. The amounts currently being allowed in are not sufficient to replenish the reserves, which are vital in the case of an emergency, but also if Israel were to again lower import levels.
The power plant has been forced to cut production to only 55MW, and at points in recent weeks that dropped to 45MW.
The lack of electricity also means people can go hours or even a day without running water, as power is needed to pump water into homes, and concerns have been raised about the pumping out of waste water, should the power stop.
Israel continues to place a cap on other types of fuel, including petrol and gas, and imports are 10-15 percent lower than pre-October levels, Palestinian officials and foreign aid workers say.
Rania Kharma from Gaza City said she saves the gas she has for cooking and rarely uses her gas heaters.
“We are going back to the old days of using wood and coal to warm ourselves,” she said, noting that even these commodities are relatively expensive in Gaza, and out of the reach of many.
“It feels so weird that in the 21st century. We are going backwards and have to buy candles for light,” Rania lamented.
One person was even more blunt when talking about the overall situation in Gaza and specifically the impact of the fuel cuts: “I want to run away from this madness. And I know many others who want to leave as well.”
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