Power cuts, fuel shortages affect health and water supplies

Power cuts, fuel shortages badly affect health services in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (ICRC)

WEST BANK/GAZA (IRIN) - Adel Abu Sido, 31, a taxi driver from Gaza City, stands over his two-week old premature baby, Hadil, dreading her air supply may abruptly stop.

Hadil’s incubator is not reliably providing enough oxygen due to the inconsistent power supply at al-Shifa Hospital, the main healthcare center in the Gaza Strip.

The fuel for hospital generators has nearly run out and a shortage of basic medical supplies has left al-Shifa with only 20 percent of the oxygen supply it needs, forcing medical professionals in Gaza to make hard choices, said Gaza health ministry spokesperson Hamam Nasman.

“Fifty percent of hospital equipment at al-Shifa has stopped functioning due to the lack of electricity and spare parts since this more than 20-day blockade started,” said Gaza health minister Basem Naim, adding that 95 basic medications are out of stock.

Asthma patients waiting for inhalers are being turned away, as hospital pharmacists scavenge local pharmacies.

“Al-Shifa Hospital is using its secondary generator nearly 20 hours a day to power the hospital, since there is not enough fuel in stock to operate the primary generator,” said spokesperson Nasman. Under normal circumstances the secondary generator has the capacity to power the hospital only three hours a day.

Israeli Defense Ministry spokesperson Shlomo Dror said: “The fuel supply to Gaza was only interrupted for three days to send a political signal to Hamas that the lull is not going to continue while they encourage shooting at civilians.” Israel is interested in continuing the ceasefire, he said.

Washing machines — used to sterilize sheets and uniforms — have stopped due to the lack of fuel at the hospital.

Rolling blackouts

Rolling blackouts are now common across Gaza, particularly in Gaza City, the largest population center. Hundreds of thousands are left without electricity during winter, which means no water for many residents who live in high-rise buildings dependent on electric water pumps.

Israel sealed all commercial and passenger border crossings to Gaza on 4 November, when an Israeli military incursion into Gaza prompted Palestinian militants to resume daily rocket fire into Israeli towns. Before the Israeli ground operation to locate a tunnel, a five-month Egyptian- brokered ceasefire had been largely holding.

Israel has restricted imports into Gaza, including food, fuel, medical supplies and other basic necessities despite the truce, which calls on militants to halt rocket attacks in return for Israel easing its embargo on the territory.

“This time throughout this whole truce since June none of us have been able to bring in anything extra that would create a reserve so we had nothing to call upon,” said Karen AbuZayd, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Gaza is running on less than half the electricity it requires for normal consumption, a result of the blockade on fuel and mechanical parts.

Impact on water, sewage

The lack of fuel and electricity has caused water and sewage systems in Gaza to collapse.

The Coastal Municipal Water Utility in Gaza has said that due to the power outages and the lack of fuel, 20 percent of wells are not functional and 60 percent are only partially functional. Furthermore, malfunctioning sewage systems have raised concerns about possible flooding and leakage during the forthcoming rainy season.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an immediate end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip on 18 November, which she said breached international and humanitarian law.

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