Gaza on edge as residents suffer through major electricity shortages

Online activists have called for protests in Gaza City on Wednesday and in Jabalia and Nuseirat refugee camps on Thursday.

January 11, 2017 20:45
3 minute read.
A Palestinian woman sits outside her house as she escapes the heat during a power cut at Shatti (bea

A Palestinian woman sits outside her house as she escapes the heat during a power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City September 15, 2015. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

“We have only had electricity for four hours a day over the past several weeks. I can’t afford to run my backup generator every night; it’s becoming way too expensive,” Fadi, a resident of Gaza City, said Tuesday night, referring to the ongoing electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“Even with my backup generator, I don’t have enough electricity to heat the house most nights, and its freezing here,” he said. “I have resorted to using wood and coal to heat the house, which is helping with the heat but damaging to my health... Electricity is a basic right. Why have I been deprived of it?” The Gaza Strip, which has suffered for many years from poor electrical infrastructure, typically has the resources to provide for eight hours of electricity daily, approximately 40% of Gaza’s electricity needs. However, over the past several weeks, most Gazans have only received three to four hours of electricity, exacerbating already dire circumstances.

Mamoun Abu Shahala, the Palestinian Authority labor minister, one of four PA Gazabased ministers, said the reason for the dramatic decrease in available electricity is relatively straightforward.

“The Gaza power plant cannot run at its full capacity because of a lack of funds to purchase fuel in addition to huge debts,” Abu Shahala told The Jerusalem Post.

The power plant, which can provide up to 80 megawatts at full capacity and is controlled by Hamas authorities, usually puts out approximately 40 megawatts.

“With the power plant not running at full capacity and over $2 billion in electrical debts, the number of electrical hours daily have decreased,” Abu Shahala stated, adding, “I call on the international community to help Gaza afford extra fuel for the power plant.”

In previous electricity crises, Qatar and other international parties covered part of the fuel costs for the power plant.

Nonetheless, Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, the chairman of the Hamas-controlled Energy Authority in Gaza, said that the preferred solution is for the PA to lift all import taxes on fuel.

“The fastest solution to improve the electricity situation is for the government to cancel all taxes on fuel for the power plant,” Khalil told a press conference in Gaza City on Tuesday, explaining that lifting the taxes will allow the power plant to purchase greater amounts of fuel.

The PA, which coordinates the transfer of fuel into Gaza with Israel, has historically exempted fuel imported to Gaza from taxes, but in 2015, with a growing financial crisis, the PA government decided it could no longer afford that.

Abu Shahala, however, said that the government is doing everything it can to reduce taxes on fuel imported to Gaza and cannot exceed its means.

“We have taken huge losses in collecting taxes because we care deeply about the people of Gaza,” Abu Shahala said.

“The government decided and is currently exempting Gaza from 80% of fuel taxes.”

The PA considers import taxes as one of its primary sources of income.

Abu Shahala, the Energy Authority in Gaza, and officials from the power plant have been meeting to discuss ways to overcome the electricity crisis and improve the Strip’s electricity infrastructure more generally.

According to Abu Shahala, there is a project to deliver an additional 150 megawatts into Gaza from Israel, but it also needs funding before the electricity can begin to flow in the coastal enclave.

In the meantime, Gazans are growing increasingly impatient and have organized a series of protests over the next few days.

Online activists have called for protests in Gaza City on Wednesday and in Jabalya and Nuseirat refugee camps on Thursday.

It is unclear if the protests will actually take place, as Hamas authorities broke up a protest against the electricity crisis in the Nuseirat camp last week.

Fadi hopes that the crisis will be resolved as soon as possible.

“I call on anyone to take action to resolve this mess,” he said. “It is difficult enough living in a place that you cannot leave; at the least I should be able to enjoy my right to electricity.”

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