Those who can act to provide Gaza with fuel and water do nothing
To sign the Thirsting for Justice petition, ‘Gaza to run out of drinking water by 2016′, for presentation to the EU, click here. Started on September 26th the number of signatures had crept up to 8,731 by Sunday November 17th, to 8,886 by Sunday November 24th, 8,999 by December 1st and 9,186 by December 8th. They hope to reach 100,000 to present it to EU leaders. Unfortunately, as the portal Occupied Palestine has stopped picking up from JfJfP and most other external sources, this petition, started by a Palestinian and the Palestinian NGO Thirsting for Justice, has not been widely reposted in Palestine.
In this posting: Statement from JfJfP and reports from Financial Times, Hansard (and how to contact the FCO Minister), Amnesty International and Daily Telegraph
Only a political decision can solve Gaza water crisis
December 08, 2013
JfJfP deplores the horrifying water crisis in Gaza. We place the blame primarily on Israel for destroying Gaza’s water and sewage systems during Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense/Cloud and maintaining the blockade of Gaza, thus preventing reconstruction and the import of sufficient supplies of oil to power the electricity, water and sewage systems. Untreated sewage is flooding into the streets of Gaza.
The only source of water that Gaza’s 1.6 million Palestinians are able to access is the underground water aquifer, which is being over-used by Gazans and further depleted by Israel’s abstraction of water from the springs that replenish the aquifer. Because of the infrastructure breakdown, the aquifer is highly contaminated with sea water and untreated sewage. According to the UN, if the situation continues, Gaza’s aquifer will become unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020.
We reject Israel’s solution of providing Gaza with water via an expensive desalination project paid for by the European Union and international aid agencies – a solution that maintains the siege and separation of Gaza and absolves Israel of responsibility. A desalination plant would also require vast amounts of energy to run and would thus be controlled by Israel.
We believe this is a political problem that urgently demands a political solution:the lifting of the siege of Gaza, the return of their water rights to Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, and the achievement of a just peace between Israel and the entire Palestinian people.
Though the root cause is Israel’s blockade, blame should also be attached to the colluding behaviour of the new Egyptian military government, which has closed the tunnels which were Gaza’s lifeline, and of the PA, which should lower the price of fuel, given how much money the EU gives them.
To make representations about Gaza, contact FCO Minister Hugh Robertson.
It is always better to write, as it is our experience that Government departments take letters more seriously.
Rt Hon Hugh Robertson MP
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH
A Bedouin boy stands near an open pool of sewage in the garbage filled Wadi Gaza in the central Gaza Strip on November 27, 2013, as the silhouette of the Gaza Strip power plant is seen in the background. Gaza is suffering from the most serious fuel crisis in its history, with the shortages badly affecting the operation of hospitals, water and sanitation plants, businesses and private homes, which suffer daily power outages of up to 16 hours. Photo by Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images
By John Reed in Gaza City, Financial Times
December 4, 2013
At Gaza City’s central rubbish dump, a teenage boy goads his donkey cart down an incline to the edge of an open pit where the city tips about 650 tonnes of refuse destined for landfill every day.
A critical shortage of fuel, caused by the closure of the tunnels that used to link the Gaza Strip to Egypt, means that the municipality – where about 600,000 of the territory’s 1.7m people live – can no longer operate rubbish collection trucks, and is relying mainly on donkey or horse-drawn carts.
“To transfer this accumulation to landfill, we need trucks – but that has now stopped because there is no fuel,” says Abed al Rahim Abu Komboz, the municipality’s director of health and environment, as he stands next to the tip, which local residents loathe because of its overpowering stench and the insects and rats it attracts.
The loss of the cheap, subsidised fuel that used to reach Gaza via the tunnels, which Egypt’s military sealed off last summer as it seized power from Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, has cascaded through the territory’s economy. In recent days officials and analysts in Gaza and international bodies, including the UN, have warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis as the Palestinian territory and the foreign aid agencies who work with it struggle to offer basic services. Fuel and power cuts are disrupting water, sanitation and medical care.
Officials in Hamas, an ally of Mr Morsi’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood, reflexively blame the squeeze on Israel’s draconian controls on the movement of people and goods imposed after the militant group took power in 2007.
However, they also acknowledge the economic blow dealt to Gaza by the crackdown on tunnels, which Egypt says also brought arms and Palestinian militants into the unstable Sinai region.
Alaadin Rafati, Gaza’s minister of national economy, estimates the cost of what he calls the “blockade” since Egypt’s July coup d’état at about $230m a month, or 10 per cent of gross domestic product.
“We can say that 50 per cent of the needs of Gaza were coming through the border with Egypt, and 90 per cent of the fuel and construction materials,” he says. Between 200 and 250 of the tunnels were sealed off, and only “a limited number” are still open.
Hamas, which used to collect taxes on the tunnel trade from Egypt, is a month behind on paying wages to its 40,000 employees. Earlier this week the movement said it was cancelling its anniversary rally on December 14, an annual mass gathering meant to showcase its popular support and military prowess.
The loss of cheap building materials from Egypt has idled construction, another industry that traditionally served as an engine of economic growth in Gaza, and coincided with Israel’s recent relaxation, then reimposition, of an import ban on cement, steel and other supplies.
Another major employer, the UN refugee agency UNRWA, which has just over 12,000 people – mostly teachers – on its payroll in Gaza, faces its own funding shortfall and says it does not have money in the bank to pay December wages.
Gaza’s main power plant stopped operating after running out of cheap Egyptian diesel last month, and electricity is now only available on a six hours-on/12 hours-off basis. The power cuts have in turn wreaked havoc on water and sewage treatment, and the pumps on which the many Gazans who live in tower blocks rely to get water to storage tanks on their roofs.
According to Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, 40 per cent of the population receive water for only four to six hours, every five days.
A slick of sewage up to a metre deep recently flooded Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighbourhood. Nezar Hejazy, the municipality’s deputy mayor, says he expects another such flood this week because the city’s normal fuel reserve – 400,000 litres, or a month and a half of its needs – has dwindled to 10,000 litres, enough for just a few days.
Gaza is now pumping sewage with only minimal treatment into the Mediterranean, and officials say their inability to treat waste risks contaminating the water table.
“I worry about the aquifer and seaside being polluted,” says Maher El-Najjar, director of planning with Gaza’s water utility. “I would not want to eat fish in Gaza,” he adds.
Notwithstanding Gaza’s worsening living conditions and financial straits, analysts see no signs of an erosion of Hamas’s hold on power.
A self-declared opposition political movement called Tamarod, modelled on the one that toppled Mr Morsi, called for mass demonstrations in November, then cancelled the call to protest and fizzled from view.
“The opposition to Hamas were trying to regroup themselves and prepare for mass protest, but nothing happened,” says Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “People are very much afraid . . . and Israel is interested in keeping the situation as it is: the Palestinians separated, and divided against each other.”
From Hansard, November 22, 2013
Questions to FCO
Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of the closure of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza on (a) electricity, (b) water and sanitation, (c) fuel and (d) food supplies in Gaza; and what representations he is making to his Egyptian and Israeli counterparts on the matter. 
Hugh Robertson: I am concerned by the effect of the tunnel closures on the already difficult humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza. According to the UN and other independent sources, the ending of the smuggling of subsidized Egyptian fuel through the tunnels has led to a major electricity and fuel crisis. The electricity shortage has undermined an already precarious infrastructure, severely disrupting the provision of basic services, including health, water and sanitation. The tunnel closures have also impacted significantly on availability of construction materials and food, leading to higher prices and growing unemployment.
I made representations on the situation in Gaza to the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and discussed it with the Palestinian President and Foreign Minister during my recent visit to the region. The British embassy in Cairo has also made representations on Gaza to the Egyptian authorities.
Schoolgirls in Gaza wade home through a flood of dirty sewage water. Photo from Oxfam.
Media release from Amnesty International
December 02, 2013
Israel must immediately lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, including by allowing the delivery of fuel and other essential supplies into the territory without restrictions, said Amnesty International today.
For the last month, all of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents have been living without power for most of the time and in the shadow of a public health catastrophe, after their sole power plant was forced to shut down, causing the failure of several sewerage and water plants.
“This latest harsh setback has exacerbated the assault on the dignity of Palestinians in Gaza and the massive denial of rights they have experienced for more than six years because of Israel’s blockade, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The blockade has collectively punished Gaza’s population in violation of international law. The power plant shutdown has further affected all aspects of daily life, and the Israeli authorities must lift the blockade immediately, starting by allowing urgently needed fuel supplies into the Strip and working with all relevant parties to avert a prolonged humanitarian crisis this winter.”
The power plant, which until recently supplied 30 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity, ran out of diesel fuel on 1 November. The resulting shutdown has exacerbated an ongoing water and sanitation crisis and has left Gaza residents without power for 16 hours a day.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, all 291 water and wastewater facilities in the Gaza Strip are now relying on standby generators, which are also affected by the fuel shortages. On 13 November a large sewage pumping station failed in al-Zaytoun, south of Gaza City, allowing more than 35,000 cubic metres of raw sewage to spew into the streets.
Local authorities have struggled to clean up the spill, leaving some 3,000 residents wading through sewage. The clean-up finally began on 29 November, according to local residents, following efforts by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other agencies, and an emergency donation from Turkey to pay for fuel for critical sewage stations.
“The reason for the flood of sewage was the blockade,” a resident of al-Zaytoun told Amnesty International. “The question is, why is the blockade being allowed to continue? What is our crime? There is no justification for this situation. We just want to live like any other people in the world.”
Ten other sewage pumping stations in the Gaza Strip have been forced to divert sewage to open channels, lagoons, or the sea during the last month, and other stations are close to overflowing.
Before the current crisis, some 90 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage were being dumped into the sea off Gaza every day. Since the power plant shutdown, more raw sewage is being dumped into the sea. For years, more than 90 per cent of the water extracted from the Gaza aquifer has been polluted and unfit for human consumption due to the infiltration of sewage and seawater and prolonged over-extraction because of Israel’s disproportionate use of water resources.
Water supply to households across the Strip, which was already rationed, has also been reduced since the power plant shutdown. Some 65 per cent of Gaza’s population only receive water once every three or four days.
“For each day that the Gaza power plant does not receive fuel, the risk of a massive public health crisis increases. Access to adequate sanitation and drinking water are fundamental human rights. The power plant shutdown should never have been allowed to happen,” said Philip Luther.
Hospitals and other health facilities throughout the Gaza Strip have been relying on their own generators during the lengthy power outages. But the generators are also affected by fuel shortages, jeopardizing essential services like kidney dialysis, operating theatres, blood banks, intensive care units, neo-natal care, and laboratories, putting patients’ lives at risk.
Businesses, construction, and much agricultural work have also ground to a halt amid the power cuts and shortages of fuel and building materials. This has further reduced the incomes of many households who already had trouble meeting their basic needs.
Bakeries have reduced production and people are forced to queue to buy bread. Transportation throughout the Strip has been curtailed; carts pulled by donkeys are now being used to collect solid waste. The Strip’s schools and universities have also been affected.
Since June 2007, when the Israeli blockade was tightened, Gaza’s energy, water, and sanitation infrastructure has been inadequate to fulfil the basic rights of its inhabitants. They were already poor due to prior Israeli restrictions and decades of neglect.
Before the power plant shut down, Gaza already suffered from a chronic electricity shortage and routine power outages. Since 1 November, the electricity currently supplied to the Strip – which is purchased from Israel and Egypt – covers less than 40 per cent of the population’s needs.
A main factor triggering the shutdown was the Egyptian military’s campaign to destroy tunnels between Gaza and Sinai – more than 90 per cent have been removed since June 2013. Since early 2011, the power plant was run on Egyptian diesel brought in through some of those tunnels – the amount dropped from about 1 million litres per day in June 2013 to around 20,000 litres per week in November.
Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to facilitate construction of new power lines to increase the electricity supply to the southern Gaza Strip and work with Palestinian and Israeli authorities to find a sustainable solution to the fuel crisis.
On 28 June 2006, Israeli aircraft fired eight missiles into the Gaza power plant, destroying all its transformers. Israeli restrictions on imports of construction materials, spare parts, and fuel impeded reconstruction. These restrictions were tightened after Israel imposed a complete air, land and sea blockade on Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas established a de facto administration in the Strip.
As the occupying power, Israel has the primary responsibility for addressing the current crisis by immediately increasing fuel supplies to Gaza. It must also address the long-term crisis by completely lifting the blockade, including by allowing fuel into Gaza without restrictions, allowing construction materials and equipment necessary for repairing and maintaining vital infrastructure, and increasing electricity supplies to Gaza by facilitating the construction of new power lines.
Continuing disputes between the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority over payment and taxes are also a factor in the current crisis. Both authorities must co-operate so that the power plant again receives a steady supply of fuel and can resume operations.
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, only about a quarter of the water and sanitation projects in Gaza included in the 2013 Consolidated Appeals Process have been funded.
Daily life is a battle for the deprived residents of one of the world’s most densely populated* places on earth
By Robert Tait, Telegraph
November 29, 2013
The horrific scars disfigure Mona Abu Mraleel’s otherwise strikingly beautiful face. Swathes of bandages cover the injuries the 17-year-old sustained to her arms and legs in a blaze from which she narrowly escaped with her life.
Still racked by pain from burns to 40 per cent of her body, she goes to hospital on a daily basis to have her dressings changed. Specialist doctors are preparing to carry out a delicate skin graft operation in the coming days.
Yet the hospital on which her recovery depends is woefully ill-fitted to the task – riddled by equipment failures, power cuts and shortages in a mounting crisis that doctors fear is leading to a “health catastrophe”.
Mona lives in Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave where chronic fuel shortages have led to electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day and reduced ordinary life and public services to a standstill.
She is just one of many Gazans suffering in a rapidly worsening economic climate that this week prompted the British Foreign Office minister, Hugh Robertson, to demand urgent action to restore an adequate fuel supply to the territory.
Gaza’s long-running shortages – which had already inflicted long-term eight-hour daily blackouts on residents – worsened dramatically at the beginning of this month when the territory’s main power station closed, following a row over prices between the two biggest Palestinian factions.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, said it could no longer afford to buy fuel after the Fatah-dominated and Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, withdrew the tax exemptions it once provided.
That intensified already severe shortages first caused by an Israeli blockade imposed in 2007 and then compounded by the Egyptian military’s closure of tunnels previously used as supply routes following last summer’s ousting of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s Islamist former president and a Hamas ally.
The result has been blackouts of between 12 and 16 hours a day. Sometimes the daily power supply is cut to as little as six hours.
The impact on Gaza’s health service has been disastrous. Hospitals, running out of fuel to keep generators going, are at breaking point amid the threat of multiple equipment failures.
At the European hospital in Khan Younis radiographers say the patchy electricity supply from generators produces flawed images from the MRI scanner – the only such facility in Gaza – making diagnoses difficult. They will be forced to stop using the machine entirely unless nearly-exhausted Helium gas supplies are not restocked from Israel to prevent it overheating.
Two incubators and four monitors have broken down in the special care baby unit, where sporadic power interruptions force doctors to administer oxygen manually to premature infants.
With the hospital forced to ration its fuel supply, only half the usual number of daily non-emergency operations are taking place.
A shortage of medical supplies is further complicating matters. At Shifa hospital’s renal unit – where five of the 40 kidney dialysis machines are out of service after being damaged by power cuts – many patients have anaemia due to a lack of essential hormone medication.
“This is the worst time I have known in the 18 years I have been in service,” said Dr Mohammed Al-Kashif, international cooperation director at Gaza’s health ministry. “It’s a disaster. We have stopped many elective operations in hospitals to cut down on the expenditure of drugs and disposable equipment.”
The crisis has spread beyond the health sector. Main thoroughfares are in pitch darkness at night as streets lights are left switched off. Traffic lights at main junctions have ceased to work.
Many shops conduct their trade in semi-gloom while some have stopped trading entirely. Al-Aloet, one of Gaza City’s biggest bakeries, has shut two production lines – even as demand for bread rises amid the enforced closure of smaller businesses.
With just a few days’ fuel left, Tarik Shehada, the manager, said he feared would be forced to shut a business his family have run for 30 years.
Meanwhile, the breakdown of public services has led to dire warnings of a disease epidemic.
This week Gaza authorities deployed donkeys to cart away refuse throughout the territory after being forced to withdraw 50 garbage lorries from service.
That came after nearly 8,000 gallons of raw sewage washed into several homes after flooding the streets of Gaza City’s impoverished East Zeitoun district, where around 3,000 people live. The accident happened after a lack of fuel caused the breakdown of backup generators at a nearby pumping station.
Standing amid the rancid stench, Rami Naffar, 40, said the power cuts meant there was insufficient water to bathe his children, several of whom had fallen ill from the effects of successive sewage spills.
For the hospitals, an added worry is coping with the after-effects of fires started by malfunctioning domestic generators – similar to that which caused Mona’s injuries after sparks from a plug set her bed alight.
Sixteen people – including four children – have died from the effects of burns alone in the last year, human rights activists say, while others have perished from carbon monoxide poisoning or electrocution.
We have dealt with many cases caused directly or indirectly by the electricity shortages,” said Dr Nafiz Abu Shaban, head of plastic surgery at Shifa Hospital’s under-resourced burns unit, where Mona goes every day for treatment “Many children have come in with electric burns from generators and many have had to have fingers or limbs amputated.”
For Mona, the danger that Gaza’s crumbling health services will deprive her of the rehabilitation she needs and turn her plight into a lifelong tragedy has prompted her desperate family to appeal for help from abroad.
“We’re ready to take help from anywhere because the treatment and technology isn’t available here to repair the effects of the burns,” said her father, Abed Rahman Mraleel. “Her beauty has been damaged and it could make her less attractive to marry. In our culture, not being able to marry is a big problem for her.”
Notes and links
The frequent repetition that Gaza city is one of the most densely populated places on earth is an error that critics often pick on to assert that claims about the woes of Gaza are deliberately exaggerated. Although Gaza city is not among the most densely populated cities in the world, the Gaza strip does have a very high population density. According to Wikipedia, the top 50 most densely populated cities do not include Gaza city. Its population density is estimated at 9,982.69 people per km² whereas the city ranked 50th in population density, Athens has a population density of 16,832/ km².
But the Gaza strip comes fifth in several world rankings of population density (according to who is counting) in a league including Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Gibraltar, Hong Kong or the Vatican see. The Gaza Strip has a population density of between 4,750.71/ km² (Index Mundi) and double that, 9,982.69/km² (Wikipedia). While this is clearly not an exact science it seems safe to conclude that Gaza, the city, is not one of the most densely populated places on earth, but the Gaza strip, the part-country, is.