UN: Gaza electricity supply in danger

UN official tells 'Post' that fuel sanctions to lead to severe power shortage within three weeks.

gaza fuel 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza fuel 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The 15 percent fuel import cut that Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip in October could lead to a severe power supply shortage within three weeks, an official in the Gaza branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. According to Hamada Al-Bayari, the four gas turbines currently operating in Gaza consume 275 to 295 cubic meters of industrial diesel fuel per day. Since the cuts went into effect, the power plant has been receiving 241.5 cubic meters per day. It has made up the difference by dipping into its reserves of 3,000 cu.m. of industrial diesel. Now, only 1,000 were left, enough for about three weeks, said Bayari. Until June, when Israel destroyed when Israel destroyed six transformers operating three turbines providing electricity for the Gaza Strip, the total electricity supply was 210 megawatts, including 120 provided directly from Israel and 90 from the Gaza power plant. Today, Gaza receives a total of 197 megawatts: 120 from Israel, 60 from the two functioning turbines in Gaza and 17 from Egypt. The shortage had already caused Gaza electricity officials to conduct planned power outages of five hours per week, said Bayari. Less than two weeks ago, Israel allowed Gaza to import a transformer with the potential to produce 20 more megawatts of electricity. However, this transformer requires 100 cu.m. of fuel per day. Unless Israel agrees to provide fuel, the transformer will not operate. The use of the new transformer would bring electricity production to 217 megawatts, seven more than what it was prior to June 2006. On the other hand, winter electricity consumption was higher than usual, said Bayari. According to one expert, Gaza requires 240 megawatts in winter. In the meantime, Israel is defending its decision to cut its electricity supply to Gaza by 5 percent before the High Court of Justice, in response to a petition filed by two Palestinians and 10 Israeli and Palestinian organizations. On Wednesday, the state submitted an affidavit signed by Dan Weinstock, head of the Electricity Authority in the National Infrastructures Ministry. Weinstock said that Israel for many months was already supplying less electricity to the Gaza Strip than it used to, that the reduction had not been a punitive measure, that the Palestinians had agreed to it and that after the cuts were made, the Palestinians did not complain about shortages. The state has already said it planned to cut the electricity supply on four main power lines in the Gaza Strip by 5%. Each line provided 400 amperes of electricity [at approximately 20 amperes/megawatt - d.i.]. After the cut, the lines would presumably provide 380 amperes. However, continued Weinstock, the supply on two of the four power lines had already been cut to 330 amperes in January. This was allegedly in keeping with an agreement reached with the Palestinians in 2005 to reduce Israel's share of the power supply to Gaza. Despite the agreement, Israel continued to supply 400 amperes until the beginning of the year even though it was not obliged to. Weinstock added that because of an error, the power supply to Gaza on the other two main lines was reduced from 400 amperes to 380 for a period of 13 days. The fact that these cuts did not apparently cause undue distress and that the Palestinians had allegedly agreed to more drastic cuts, down to 330 amperes in 2005, indicated that a 5% cut would not create humanitarian hardships, wrote Weinstock. In a reaction to the affidavit, Sari Bashi, the director of Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, described the government document as an "oddly drafted affidavit filled containing contradictory data. The state's submission [also] ignored the court's directive, in a November 30 interim decision, to respond to detailed questions regarding the effect of the reduction on Gaza's humanitarian services." Bashi added that when the state did not know how much electricity it was supplying to the Gaza Strip in the first place and had to submit corrections to the High Court, it was clear that it had no idea what it would take to create a deterrent against Kassam attacks, which is the declared aim of the power cut. Furthermore, she said she not received any confirmation that the Palestinians had indeed signed an agreement for Israel to reduce the power it supplied to 330 amperes per line. The court held it most recent hearing on the petition on November 29. At that time, it gave the state 12 days to reply to four questions and then another week for the petitioners to respond to the state's reply.