By Stephen Lendman
Under siege for over three years, Gaza’s humanitarian crisis continues unabated, Israel’s bogus easing doing little to relieve it, including a serious electricity shortage, what the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement addressed in a May report titled, "Electricity Shortage in Gaza: Who Turned Out the Lights?"
Besides earlier attacks, Cast Lead severely damaged Gaza’s sole power plant, putting it on the verge of collapse, exacerbated by inadequate industrial diesel supplies and the destruction of power lines supplying electricity from Israel and Egypt.
As a result, Gaza experiences outages of up to 12 hours a day, severely disrupting "normal functioning of humanitarian infrastructure, including health and education institutions and water and sewage systems, as well as the agricultural sector." In addition, faulty generators at times kill or injure users, an untenable situation because of Israeli attacks and siege, in violation of international law.
Chronology of Gaza’s Electricity Crisis
In 2002, Gaza’s sole power producer (the private Gaza Power Plant – GPP) became operational. In 2004, its potential capacity was 140 megawatts (MW), its remaining needs bought from Israel. In June 2006, IDF aircraft destroyed GPP’s six transformers. In September 2006, the company bought 17 MW of electricity from Egypt.
In November 2006, seven transformers became partially operational, a year later reaching its 80 MW capacity not used because of Israeli fuel restrictions, worsened after the June 2007 siege, preventing entry of equipment, spare parts, other essential items, and enough diesel. By January 2008, operations were at 30% of capacity, causing outages up to eight hours daily – now 12 since January 2010 for lack of fuel and funds.
Gaza needs from 240 – 280 MW, almost half purchased through 10 high-voltage Israeli lines, 17 MW (6 – 7%) coming from Egypt to the Rafah area, and the rest (107 MW) supplied internally when GPP is fully operational, hampered by Gaza’s dependence on Israeli diesel, severely restricted under siege.
Presently, about 2.2 million liters a week come in, only 63% of GPP’s needs for full capacity – hence, outages.
In 2009, GPP produced about 65 MW, creating a 42 MW shortfall, exacerbated by the grid’s poor condition, electricity thus lost after transmission through waste. Worse still is Israel’s building materials ban, preventing proper maintenance and rehabilitation. As a result, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCo) has regular, rotating outages throughout the Strip, distributing the burden, not relieving what only a siege lift can accomplish, only possible if public outrage forces world leaders to demand it with harsh recriminations if ignored.
From summer 2006 – November 2009, the EU and individual member states subsidized GPP’s fuel purchases, bought from Dor Alon, Israel’s public fuel company. Thereafter, direct financing ended, but some European companies maintained support, prevented by Israel from exceeding 2.2 million liters weekly, far short of what’s needed.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Involvement
Since November 2009, the PA Fuel Authority assumed responsibility for funding Israeli and Egyptian supplied power. According to the PA/GPP agreement, it must purchase diesel and pay $2.5 million monthly for operating expenses, requiring a budget of 49 million Israeli shekels (NIS) per month, paid in diminishing sums of 41 – 30 NIS from January – April.
As a result, less fuel is bought, down to 5.6 liters in April compared to almost nine million in 2009 and 14 million monthly to operate at full capacity. According to PA officials, they couldn’t meet all financial obligations, wanting Gazans to pay their share, not possible because of the Strip’s dire economic condition exacerbated under siege and regular attacks.
GEDCo needs NIS 50 – 60 per month, but only gets up to 18, most covering expenses, maintenance and salaries, leaving only a few million for fuel. From June 2007 – March 2010, the cumulative consumer power supply debt reached NIS 2.3 billion because of Israeli imposed post September 2000 hardships, the start of the second Intifada. Thereafter, free movement restrictions and economic deterioration followed, greatly exacerbated by three years of siege and Cast Lead.
From 1998 – 2000, monthly collections were 83% of electricity bills, but since 2000, they’re 39%, mostly covered by NGOs and international organizations because Palestinian households are too impoverished to do it.
According to the PA, Gazan funds can be collected from 77,000 PA employees, 30,000 employed by the government, the others working in the private sector or tunnel economy.
To facilitate collection, 10,000 meters were installed to force consumers to pay in advance, a similar system in the West Bank, where collections rose in the past two years by getting them from those able to pay. However, PA officials say Gazan government institutions and municipalities don’t do it for electricity, the siege a key reason why.
However, Hamas wants to improve collections and plans to institute measures to enforce them, working cooperatively with GEDCo, the company so far refraining from strict enforcement.
Implications of the Electricity Crisis
Because of insufficient fuel in Q 1 2010, GPP operated a single turbine most often, generating 30 MW of power, less than half of 2009 output, using two turbines. As a result, the electricity deficit rose 30%, followed by rising outages, mostly in Gaza city and surroundings where about half the population lives and most hospitals and other vital infrastructure facilities are located.
In April, a lack of fuel forced GPP to shut entirely for several days, raising the power deficit to 43%, increasing the length and frequency of outages. During summer, conditions always worsen with greater demand and less electricity generated because, at high temperatures, power is needed to run cooling systems, meaning less goes to consumers.
The entire Strip is impacted, including those able to pay regularly. As a result, throughout 2010, 30% of Gazans have no electricity during some part of every day.
"For lack of an alternative, GEDCo initiates power outages by disconnecting power lines that serve hospitals, water wells, wastewater treatment facilities, schools, pharmacies and clinics, as well as homes," severely impacting daily life for everyone.
The alternative is private generators, but they’re dangerous, in Q 1 2010 causing dozens of injuries and 17 deaths, including six children because of unsafe use, carbon monoxide poisoning, and fires and explosions when users try to fuel them by candle-light during blackouts.
All Sectors of Gaza Affected
Power shortages force hospitals and clinics to rely heavily on generators, not able to operate for prolonged periods because overuse causes damage. As a result, elective surgeries are delayed or not done. Refrigeration outages risk deterioration of certain drugs, and the overall function of facilities is severely hampered, at times putting patients’ lives in danger.
Gaza’s sewage treatment plant requires 14 days of uninterrupted power to fully complete treatment cycles, impossible with daily outages, forcing release of 60 – 80 million liters of raw or partially treated waste into the Mediterranean to avoid flooding residential areas, at times flooded anyway.
Pumping water also needs power, but because continuous operation isn’t possible, domestic use is especially impacted, causing hygiene and health concerns. At most, nearly all households get water for 5 – 7 hours a day, an immense hardship to endure.
Education is affected as well, causing darkened classrooms, inadequate heat in winter, water disruptions, damaged electronic equipment, and lack of proper refrigeration for school canteens to store food, creating an overall environment not conducive to teaching and learning.
Further, power cuts interrupt crop irrigation, decreasing yields, fodder production, as well as egg and dairy output. In addition, aquaculture farms are threatened because pumps needed to filter or oxygenate water are affected.
Gaza’s municipalities and the Palestinian Energy Authority share joint ownership of GEDCo, a company with experienced, professional staff handling Gaza’s power system, its managing board comprised of Gazan and PA officials who must work together cooperatively to operate well.
Yet, according to Gisha, it’s incumbent on Israel as the occupying power to provide for the needs of the people, including adequate power, what it hasn’t done in 43 years, mostly more recently by restricting fuel, equipment, and other supplies needed for optimum operations.
The solution, of course, is clear:
— world community pressure forcing Israel to end the siege entirely and comply with its international law obligations to provide for the needs of all Gazans and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem;
— allow the free passage of fuel, equipment and other supplies to supply the entire Strip’s needs;
— let in experts and advisors for their expertise, and allow Gazan professionals to be trained abroad to improve theirs; and
— return the Strip to normality, able to rebuild, grow its economy, and become self-sustaining with the West Bank and East Jerusalem cooperatively, free from an oppressive occupation, one day to be realized because growing numbers demand nothing less.
– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.