Gaza power cuts blamed on politics
Gaza City - Drawn-out power blackouts, caused by shortages of fuel used to generate electricity, coupled with a heat wave, have sent hundreds of Gaza City residents to beaches or the streets in search of cooling breezes.
Hospitals and emergency health care centres are equipped with generators that operate on oil paid for by the European Union and the United Nations. Some hospitals use solar energy, a technology donated by Japan. But electricity supplies for homes and businesses are inconsistent.
“We barely get four hours of electricity a day and remain without power for 20 hours,” political analyst Fathi Sabbah told The Arab Weekly.
Sabbah blamed the outages on differences between Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers and the moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) responsible for the West Bank. “Because of their feuds, Gaza people are paying a heavy price and their suffering has peaked,” he said.
According to the Gaza Energy Corporation (GEC), the Gaza Strip needs at least 320 megawatts (MW) of electricity every day. The sole Gaza power station generates 65 MW, while Israel provides 120 MW and Egypt another 22 MW, leaving the area nearly 40% short of energy needs.
Power outages began in June 2006, when Israeli jets struck the sole power plant in the central Gaza Strip to avenge the kidnapping of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit by Hamas. But the crisis worsened after Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 following weeks of infighting between Hamas and security forces affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate Fatah Party.
In response, Israel considered Gaza a “hostile entity”, slapping a crippling embargo that caused severe shortages of supplies, including food, fuel and other essential commodities.
Continued divisions between Hamas and Fatah aggravated the crisis and increased the population’s suffering, mainly when the GEC on July 20th switched off four turbines feeding Gaza, citing a fuel shortage.
A four-month deal with the PA to provide Gaza with fuel trucked from Israel had expired the same day. The PA had bought the fuel from a private Israeli firm with money Hamas collected for electricity tariffs from Gazan residents.
Disputes between Hamas and the PA over Israeli taxes further complicated the matter in recent few months. Hamas stopped paying a 40% “blue tax”, which Israel levies on fuel supplies, forcing the PA to pay it instead.
The PA did under the four-month deal but refused to continue doing so after it expired.
Before the deal expired, households in Gaza received electricity for 16 hours a day in phases — eight hours on, eight hours off, then eight hours on. When the agreement ended, electricity was cut to 12 hours of power a day, in intervals of six hours on, 12 hours off, six hours on. Making things worse was a heat wave that battered the region, causing technical failures in two of the four operating power stations, reducing the daily feed of electricity to four hours a day. Temperatures in Gaza hit 47 degrees Celsius during the day and an average of 40 at night.
The recent outages brought life almost to a standstill across Gaza. Streets are in total darkness, with no traffic lights, which makes driving treacherous.
In the densely populated neighbourhoods, people take to streets every night to escape the unbearable heat. Beaches are packed with people eager for a night breeze.
To charge cell phone batteries, other communication tools and temporarily light homes, people who cannot afford generators use motorcycle batteries as an alternative.
Shops and supermarkets are partially lit by generators but most shut down before nightfall to avoid extra fuel expenses. Other private businesses, such as factories, restaurants, companies, banks and money changers have generators and buy fuel to operate them when power is cut off.
Ahmed Abu Alamrien, the GEC’s information director, said his firm has been unable to buy the highly taxed Israeli fuel. “We can’t afford to pay for the tax anymore,” he said, pointing to a big gap in the price compared with electricity tariffs collected from the population.
Power outages are the main talk in the area in the past few weeks, with some mocking Hamas and others voicing rage over a crisis that paralysed various aspects of life. Social media activists slammed both Hamas and the PA for exacerbating civilian hardships.
“The misery and torture of the population in the Gaza Strip is illegal and unacceptable,” Gaza’s renowned rights activist and blogger Mustafa Ibrahim wrote on his Facebook page.
Gaza journalist Mohammed Guga was cynical in a Facebook posting. He said Gaza has “all the currents, the Islamic current, the secular current, the communist current but we don’t have the electric current”.
Meanwhile, the Hamas-Fatah divisions continue to reflect on Gaza’s power outages.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum held the PA responsible for Gaza’s power cuts, saying, “It’s an inhuman act and a big sin that is aggravating people’s suffering.”
The PA declined comment.