Gaza on brink of humanitarian and environmental disaster, says electric company
THOMAS COEX (AFP)
"The humanitarian and public health situation is catastrophic: we are talking a public health and environmental disaster. Unless it’s swiftly addressed, the repercussions will extend and reflect on all parties," said Mohammed Thabet - an official in the Electricity Distribution Company in the Gaza Strip – during an interview with i24NEWS on the potential repercussions of Israel's decision to reduce the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip, which went into effect on Monday.
The director of public relations and information of the energy provider says that there are ten lines supplying the besieged strip with electrical current from Israel - previously it supplied the strip with about 120 MW of electricity, while 23 MW came from Egypt.
"The Israeli authorities have reduced 20 megawatts of electricity so far, which has a major impact on most of the basic everyday facilities," said Thabet. "A disaster is about to hit the strip, with electricity supplies going down to one hour a day."
The official said that the power plant in the Gaza Strip has been shut down for two months due to the lack of diesel fuel needed to activate it, especially as it reaches the coastal enclave through the border crossings with Israel from the West Bank.
The reason for the suspension is the dispute between the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah and the government in Hamas-controlled Gaza over taxes on diesel fuel. The government of Gaza refuses to pay the taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority, and says that these funds do not go to the citizens of Gaza, while the Ramallah wants to impose taxes on all companies to benefit citizens through services provided by the Authority.
The standoff, defined by mutual accusations between the two parties, hinges on the PA’s fear that Hamas will keep the taxes it collects, while the Hamas government refuses to pay these taxes to the PA, which it claims does not invest the funds in Gaza.
Reducing the supply of electricity to Gaza
Thabet says that the dependence on Israel for power is because "the amount of Egyptian electricity is unstable and fluctuates depending on the security and political situation in Sinai," referring to the targeting of electrical lines by militants and inability of Egyptian technical teams to operate in the area and fix them.
As a result, Thabet says that Israel is basically Gaza’s only source of electricity, yet it is barely power to deliver electricity to homes for four hours a day, leading to a potential major crisis.
"Over the past two days, the total reduction has reached 20 MW," he says.
The 120 megawatts purchased from Israel through the Palestinian Authority are not enough for the strip, which needs 450 to 500 megawatts.
A major crisis overshadows all walks of life
Thabet says that the situation in Gaza is very difficult, and says the electricity reduction has "cast a heavy shadow on all walks of life," adding that this decision has serious repercussions, particularly for Gaza’s vital facilities, which have been hit the hardest.
According to Thabet, a visible early effect of the cut is a severe shortage of drinking water in Gaza, with water refineries and pumps unable to work properly. Sewage treatment plants have also be disrupted."It is an environmental disaster," he said.
"The sewage has leaked to the basic water reserves, to the wells, and caused a large pollution of water that was safe to drink. The pollution reached record levels ... Imagine that there are 120 thousand cubic meters of wastewater pumped to the sea every day," he said. The near future could turn into a major environmental disaster and the wastewater could reach beaches near Ashkelon in Israel.
The people are suffering
The suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip continues with the difficulty of securing income. In an area where nearly half of the young people are unemployed and suffering under the Israeli blockade imposed since 2007, it is difficult to find a stable source of revenue. This impedes regular tax collection, says Thabet, who explains that the company is semi-governmental and obliged to provide services to citizens.
On the administrative side, after the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Ministry of Finance began transferring the funds that Gaza Electricity Distribution Company was able to collect, to its counterpart in Ramallah after deducting the operating expenses and salaries of the company's employees in Gaza. However, following the dispute over diesel taxes, the Gaza Ministry of Finance decided to stop the payments to the PA.
According to Thabit, the collection is very limited. "My job as a power distribution company is to receive energy from its various sources and to distribute and collect the cost.
"Solar energy and generators are not practical solutions because they are not enough to supply two million people with electricity. Most households do not have the resources to buy diesel and gasoline regularly and permanently, especially under the siege," says Thabet.
The construction of a new power station in Gaza is a long-term solution, as it will take several years to complete. "We need an immediate solution because the situation in Gaza is very difficult," he said.
"We send our message to the United Nations and all human rights groups, as well as to the intelligent actors on the Israeli side, to rectify the situation," he said, warning of a rapid deterioration in the situation and need for a fast solution. "They must assume their responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip," he said.
Shahin Nassar is an Arab-Israeli journalist and editor on i24news' Arabic desk
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