Powerless in Gaza

Gaza resident Aya, 9, uses a paraffin lamp during one of the daily power cuts. (Tom Spender/IRIN)

GAZA CITY - Mohammed Aqdeir drinks a glass of lukewarm water despite the summer heat. The room is sweltering - but above his head the rotor blades of the fan are motionless.

“I am going crazy without electricity. There is even a shortage of candles now - I had to use the two my wife and I had received from our marriage. I worry about [starting a] fire,” said the 36-year-old from Beit Lahiya.

For the past two months, Gaza residents like Aqdeir have lived without a regular supply of electricity after the Israeli military bombed Gaza’s only power station on 28 June.

Gaza is a Palestinian-administered strip of land bordering Israel and Egypt. It was fully occupied by Israel from 1967 until mid-2005, when it was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

The Israeli military re-entered Gaza and began an offensive there soon after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier at the Karem Shalom crossing, which is Israeli territory, on 25 June.

More than 226 Palestinians, many civilians, have been killed in air raids and ground assaults since then, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

With a crippled infrastructure and low and unreliable power and water supplies, Gaza’s 1.4 million citizens face a daily struggle to survive.

Gaza’s power station, which is privately owned by an American firm and Palestinian investors, is run by the Gaza Power Generating Company (GPGC). Before the bombing, it provided 140 megawatts of electricity, or just over half of Gaza’s power needs.

The other half, 120 megawatts of electricity, is supplied by the Israeli Electricity Corporation (IEC). Gazans now rely entirely on the IEC.

The lack of electricity means sewage cannot be treated, increasing the risk of disease spreading, and hospitals cannot function normally. It means ordinary Gazans cannot keep perishable food because their fridges do not work.

At night, they are plunged into complete darkness when the electricity cuts off. They rely on candles and paraffin lamps.

Many residents have also been left with an irregular water supply as they need electricity to pump water up from nearby wells or from ground floor level to higher floors in blocks of flats.

“There is no regular life without electricity. This strike has caused about half of Gaza to be without electricity at any one time,” said Dr Rafik Maliha, GPGC’s projects manager.

UN inquiry

The United Nations has called for an inquiry into Israel’s strike on the power plant, which it said exacerbated an already critical health situation and may be a breach of international humanitarian law.

“The destruction of Gaza’s electricity power station is profoundly inconsistent with the health and safety of all civilians living in Gaza, especially the young, sick, infirm and elderly, as well as their right to the highest attainable standard of health, enshrined in the International Bill of Rights and other international human rights instruments,” said Paul Hunt, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Maliha said the GPGC is pushing the Swedish manufacturers of the power station transformers to make replacements within four months.

The GPGC is also investigating using alternative transformers that are available in Egypt and could provide about 40 per cent of the power station’s output within six weeks, pending Israeli approval.

Maliha said Gaza will suffer the consequences of the attack long after the power station is back up and running.

“Hitting a private project will send a message to private investors not to invest in Gaza because they will feel their investments are not secure. We were already very weak but now they have bombed us back into the Stone Age,” he said.

The Israeli military says it carried out the aerial attack on the power station to “handicap and disrupt operations of the terrorist organisations connected, directly or indirectly, to the kidnapping”.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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