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Middle East

Gaza's infrastructure on verge of collapse

Experts warn of 'catastrophic' consequences as power, water, and medical facilities struggle to cope under bombing.

Last updated: 20 Jul 2014 11:46
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More than a dozen power lines have been hit by Israel leaving 90 percent of Gaza without power [EPA]

When Umm Ali Abu Sada visits her kitchen, she can see her refrigerator is leaking. Its melting contents mix with blood from a kilo of frozen meat and flow onto the floor - the mother of six can do nothing to stop it.

Electricity cuts over the last 24 hours have left Umm Ali, from Jabalyia refugee camp, with more damage and loss than she can cope with.

"It's unbearably hot, and I can't do anything without the electricity to run my refrigerator," she says.

Despite abject poverty and a disabled husband, she has stockpiled food for herself and her children. She knows the coming days will not be easy, with water supplies almost completely cut off for the past 48 hours.

In order to access water from the tank on the roof, she needs the water generator to work, and that is only possible with the electricity on. Even flushing her toilet is no longer an option.

Her home in northern Gaza is in an area under heavy bombardment, directly in the path of the Israeli offensive, intensifying the crisis Umm Ali has to deal with.

"Things have become much worse since the ground invasion," she told Al Jazeera.

According to Jamal al-Dardsawi from the local power supplier, 13 electricity feeder lines have been hit by Israeli air strikes and artillery shelling. That means 90 percent of electricity in the Gaza Strip is out.

The 10 percent that remains is not enough to cater to all the needs of Gaza's 1.8 million people, and results in prolonged periods of blackouts.

Depending on the area they live in, residents of Gaza get between two and four hours of power, although some districts have had no lighting for two days.


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For the past two weeks, workers at the power company have been targeted by Israeli gunfire - making Dardsawi reluctant to send his staff members out on the ground to investigate and make repairs.

Three workers have been killed trying to make critical repairs, and continuing hostilities have made such work too dangerous in many areas, said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa programme director at Amnesty International.

A report by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) also highlighted the dangers the workers face.

"The lack of protection during damage repair, operation, and assessment remains the biggest constraint, impeding the immediate repair of water and waste water pipelines," it said.

Gaza's infrastructure is on the verge of collapse and the consequences of a continuing lack of clean water could be catastrophic.

- Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International

UNOCHA added that damage to technical equipment is affecting a majority of Gaza's population, despite repairs to two lines with the cooperation of the Israeli authorities.

"This has further undermined the operation of water and sewage facilities, many of which have been damaged," their report stated.

Gaza's infrastructure is expected to be hit even further by the knock-on effects of having no power.

That is what Umm Ali is experiencing at her home - the sewage system is flooding and garbage containers, sitting in the hot sun, have not been collected for days.

According to the Emergency Water and Sanitation-Hygiene Group (EWASH), 50 percent of sewage pumping and treatment systems no longer operate. This directly affects about 900,000 Palestinian inhabitants in Gaza.

"Gaza's infrastructure is on the verge of collapse and the consequences of a continuing lack of clean water could be catastrophic," said Luther.

EWASH says this situation is extremely dangerous, issuing a warning that the mixing of sewage and water heightened the risk of a serious public health hazard through waterborne diseases.

With the ongoing Israeli attacks, the majority of hospitals are focusing mostly on the urgent medical cases. The bombing has prevented thousands of patients from getting access to medical care.

Several human rights groups in Gaza have expressed concern about Israel's targeting of health facilities in Gaza over the past 13 days. So far, 16 medical facilities have been damaged since July 7, including two hospitals, 12 clinics and two nursing care centres, according to UNOCHA.

One case that caught international attention was the Al Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, which was forced to evacuate many of its disabled patients before it was bombed for a second time by Israel.

 Inside Story- Gaza ceasefire: Gone with the wind?

Gaza's ministry of health announced that 13 out of 54 primary care centres have been closed due to geographical location, particularly in areas constantly targeted by the Israeli air force, artillery, or navy warships.

On Saturday, Gaza hospitals announced that their medical supplies were rapidly declining, and some essential surgical operations had to be stopped due to the lack of needed provisions.

Dr Yousef Abuelresh, the deputy minister of health sent an appeal to international organisations to intervene by immediately sending desperately needed medical supplies.

His call for help has not received much of a response. Some states have sent money, but hospitals cannot do much with it when the Israeli blockade of the coastal strip is in place.


RELATED: Ambulance workers brave Gaza dangers


At least 39 fishing boats have been destroyed or severely damaged since the beginning of the war, say Amjad Shrafi, secretary of Palestinian Fishermen's Syndicate.

UNOCHA estimates 3,600 fishermen are still in need of help re-establishing their livelihoods and need assistance in the interim.

Shrafi, continues to calculate the cost of the latest damage to the fishing sector, even as the war continues. Each day, the numbers mount.

"We have lived a painful experience, with the last few days of bombardment targeting fishing harbours and boats," he told Al Jazeera.

At midnight, Israeli warships fire missiles. Over 800 shells were fired from Israeli boats, mostly hitting equipment belonging to fishermen.

Some of their boats were burned and as the fire department facing the harbour was bombed, it was not possible to bring the fires under control in time.

Those fishermen whose boats have survived, remain unable to access the sea due to constant bombing by the Israeli navy.

The killing of four children from the Bakr family inside the fishing harbour by the Israelis has turned it into a ghost town.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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