Power cuts have been an ongoing problem in the besieged Gaza Strip for the past decade, but this week the situation has reached a new low.
Last Sunday, Israel agreed to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request to further reduce Gaza’s electricity by 40 percent, in accordance with the PA President Mahmoud Abbas‘ decision to reduce the amount of money the PA pays for Gaza’s electricity supply.
Currently, Gaza’s two million residents receive about four hours of electricity a day and will now have their electricity cut by another 45-60 minutes. Gaza’s medical facilities have already have been struggling to operate with limited electricity, depending mostly on generators to provide services for patients.
The news also comes after Robert Piper, United Nations Development and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Palestinian territories, told Al Jazeera via email that Gaza’s fuel reserves are expected to be depleted “by the end of June or early July at the latest”.
The Gaza Strip requires 450-500 megawatts daily, but currently only receives half that. The reduction in electricity is widely seen as an attempt by Abbas to cripple the rival Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Up until now, Israel has supplied Gaza with 125 megawatts of electricity, or 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity needs. Egypt‘s electricity lines provide only 27 megawatts a day, but they rarely operate.
Gaza’s sole power plant, which supplied 60 megawatts, shut down in April after it ran out of fuel. Prior to its shutdown, the PA got rid of a tax exemption on diesel fuel, doubling the price as a result.
Al Jazeera spoke with Gaza residents to find out how the electricity crisis affects their lives.
Riham Salim Bahtiti – 28 – Shujayea, Gaza City
My son was born with congenital lung disease; his right lung is bigger than his left. When there’s no electricity, I worry that he might die. I’m afraid for my son; his life depends entirely on the nebuliser, which gives him oxygen. The moment he starts to play or run, he immediately needs more oxygen.
One time he needed oxygen and there was no electricity and no fuel to run the generator at home [to use the nebuliser]. I rushed him to the hospital, but they didn’t have fuel to operate the nebulisers.
The only thing I could do was go back home. I sat in an open area and used paper as a fan to make it easier for him.
My house was destroyed in the war and my ceiling now is made out of corrugated iron, so it gets hot and stuffy easily.
Manar Bahtiti – 27 – Shujayea, Gaza City
This news puts more pressure on families and it will lead to a total collapse.
I have three nebulisers at home, which I bought with my own money. I try my best; I felt that I should do something to help. About 60-70 people from my neighbourhood have been coming to my home to use the nebulisers for the past nine years.
Every day, five or six patients come and try to get three to four 15-minute sessions. They come at 1 or 3am, whenever the electricity is on. Otherwise, we use the generator, but sometimes we can’t afford the fuel.
If the electricity is further reduced, the hospitals will be overcrowded. If we get only two hours of electricity, everyone will have to squeeze in their sessions in such a short amount of time; it will add a lot of pressure and stress on us because there is so little time.
The hospitals have already instructed patients to have their sessions at home because the hospitals cannot provide sessions for everyone.
We’re living in a very critical situation because this is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Gaza; we’re just 500 metres away from the Israeli border and if there is an emergency and we need to go to the hospital, it takes a very long time for the taxi to reach us.
Sometimes, we transport the patients from our neighbourhood by motorcycle because that’s the only transportation that we have.
Amina* – 66 – Gaza
Israel is playing games with us. No one is sure how many hours we’ll get – one, two or four hours. They expelled me from my home (in 1948) and now they’re using electricity as a tool to control our lives. When Israel cuts the electricity, it’s another type of war.
The electricity crisis affects every little thing. It’s a problem just to recharge your phone. What will you do if you have an emergency? There is no meaning to our lives anymore; they control everything. What else do they want from us?
My grandchildren are really afraid of the dark; it makes them nervous. When they need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, we have to go with them.
We use small batteries to provide light, but these last for only six to eight hours and then there’s no electricity to recharge them. It’s not like we can use candles either; we’ll all die!
We don’t have water to take a bath. The municipality hasn’t been able to provide us with water for three days now. There’s no electricity to operate the water pumps; there isn’t enough electricity to fill the tanks. We’re all buying our water from the water trucks that come by. It costs us an additional 50-150 shekels ($14-$42) monthly to buy water from the trucks; it’s very expensive.
The generators that we have in the neighbourhood are very noisy; people can’t take naps. They work until 1am; it causes problems between neighbours.
Cutting off the power like this is worse than the war we experienced. There’s nothing that we can do about it! If the problem gets worse, we’ll go to the streets and ask the international community for a solution.
*Amina’s name has been changed to remain anonymous
Muhammad Hamid – 21 – Jabaliya
When I heard the news that Israel would be reducing the electricity, the first thing I did was take my generator to maintenance to get it repaired.
We use the generator to use our machines for taking the hair and feathers off of animals. Without it, we can do it manually, but the quality isn’t the same and it takes a lot of time, but customers don’t want to wait.
It’s a huge financial burden to operate a generator. It costs us 60-70 shekels ($17-$20) to operate it. Some days we have no income because all of our money goes towards operating the generator.
Abu Muhammad and Karam Swisay – Zeitoun, Gaza City
We lived through three wars, so this news doesn’t faze us. We aren’t afraid of anything.
My wife has pulmonary fibrosis and needs to be hooked to the electric oxygen concentrator or gas cylinder 24/7.
When there’s no electricity, we depend on the gas cylinders; we have three of them and use one per day.
Every two days, I go to the ambulance centre to fill them up. But sometimes they don’t have power either, so I have to wait a few hours before filling up the cylinders or I’ll go back home and try my luck the next day.
But it’s not all about the electricity. Some of her medicine costs more than 1,000 shekels ($284). My sons and I try to cover the costs; some locals and charities also pitch in.
Tareq Al Saqqa – 46 – Gaza City
The biggest problem is that when the power goes out, and then comes back on, the washing machines we sell start the whole washing process from the beginning, so it needs another two hours after being interrupted. We told the manufacturers in Tel Aviv to make some improvements on this, but they thought we were joking. They didn’t believe us. They asked us, “What power cuts are you talking about?”
Most of the appliances need to work at least four hours to reach optimal efficiency.
Regarding our repairs on appliances, the power cuts also lead to steel corrosion of a lot of the TVs and refrigerators. When it’s hot and there’s no electricity, everybody opens their windows and doors to get some fresh air, but the high humidity over time causes damage to the appliances.
Our company has suffered a big financial loss because few people want to buy air conditioners when there’s electricity for only four hours – what’s the point? So, we lost the chance to sell them during the high season. If the problem continues, the local demand for electric appliances will be very low and we won’t be able to sustain an income; we pay a lot for the supplies that come in.
We can’t depend entirely on generators to operate our stores. If there’s no electricity and no more fuel, this will lead to a total shutdown of our stores.
Running our stores on generators costs six times as much compared to regular electricity. Each kilowatt from the electrical company costs us 0.5 shekels, but each kilowatt from the generator costs at least three shekels.
We’ve been living with this problem for 10 years. There is no other solution other than to implement a big governmental project to power Gaza through solar panels.
Dr Mohamed Abu Selmia – 46 – Gaza City
Gaza has had this problem for the past 10 years, but in the last six months, the problem has deteriorated. Now, our generators are working for more than 20 hours daily. There is no continuous electricity available.
Our hospital is the only specialised hospital for children in Gaza. We have dialysis for kidney, renal failure… patients there undergo treatment daily. If there is no electricity, the patient cannot undergo dialysis and they will die because his blood must be changed daily.
We have an intensive care unit for babies. This unit depends 100 percent on electricity for its monitors and ventilators for respiration for patients. Oxygen supplies also depend on electricity. If there’s no electricity, there is no oxygen. We will have to close the hospital [if electricity is reduced and there is no fuel for the generators].
We have the laboratory, CT scans and X-rays. All these machines need continuous electricity. Because of the interruptions in electricity, our machines break down and they don’t work optimally.
Without electricity, we cannot prepare the chemotherapy for patients with cancer. If the electricity is reduced, it will be a catastrophe. This is a very bad situation. Hospitals cannot work without electricity. This is the worst it’s ever been.
Ali Hussein – 45 – Gaza City
In the last two months, when people started hearing news about the deterioration of the electricity crisis and that another war is coming in the next few months, the demand for solar panels has been very high. I think we had 200 customers just last month.
When we started operating in 2013, we installed solar panels in 10 homes. In 2014, we installed them in 100 homes; last year, 700. This year, sales have doubled since we’ve already installed them in 700 homes.
Buying enough solar panels to power the lighting, TV, modems, charging laptops and to operate the refrigerator and freezer during daytime costs around $2,000-$3,000.
About 3,000 homes in the Gaza Strip have solar panels installed. Since the economic situation is quite bad, $2,000-$3,000 is very expensive for the average family here.
You also need a lot of space for solar panels. We don’t have large spaces here in Gaza like in Europe. You would need 1,000 square metres for 100 kilowatts.