Darkness and sewage cover Gaza

November 21, 2013
Sarah Benton

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This posting has these items, photos throughout:

1) Occupied Palestine: UNRWA: Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable;
2) Juan Cole: Israel forces Gaza children to wade through sewage as creepy, evil blockade continues, short, sharp and single-minded;
3) Ma/an news: Sewage floods Gaza streets as lack of fuel plunges strip into darkness, the most expressive;
4) Business Insider: Sewage Is Spilling Into Gaza Streets As Egypt Tunnel Closures Cut Off Power;
5) NY Times: Raw Sewage and Anger Flood Gaza’s Streets as Electricity Runs Low;
6) Palestine Chronicle: As Gaza Drowns in Sewage, UN Rapporteur Announces First UN World Toilet Day, Julie Webb-Pullman notes the irony;

Palestinians walk on the side of a street flooded with waste water in Gaza City, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. A Palestinian official said sewage from a treatment plant overflowed onto streets in the Gaza Strip because of a shortage of electricity needed to process the waste. Photo by Adel Hana / AP

UNRWA: Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable

By Palestine Information Centre/Occupied Palestine
November 20, 2013

AMMAN – Outgoing commissioner general of UNRWA Filippo Grandi warned on Tuesday that the impoverished Gaza Strip is getting quickly unsuitable for human life as a result of the blockade, expecting further military escalation between Gaza and Israel.

Grandi made his warning before the advisory commission of major donors and governments hosting the Palestinian refugees during a meeting held yesterday in the Jordanian capital Amman.

“Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable, and further conflict is bound, as before, to affect civilians in Gaza and southern Israel, unless its causes are addressed,” the UN official said.

He called on the international community not to forget Gaza and to address the human dimension.

Grandi also warned that 19 out of 20 UNRWA construction projects in Gaza had ground to a halt.

Grandi said that since March, UNRWA has not had any construction projects cleared by the Israeli government, and has been unable to import building materials since last month.

“Following the closure of most smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, and given that Israel does not allow exports and hence a resumption of normal economic activities, prices are rising because commodities are becoming scarce, lack of fuel has provoked the closure of the power plant, the few jobs available in the construction industry are disappearing; and the list continues,” Grandi underlined.

“Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action. To obtain this, first and foremost, the Israeli blockade, which is illegal, must be lifted. Meanwhile, the United Nations must be allowed to at least continue construction projects and provide a few extra jobs to the beleaguered population,” he added.

Israel forces Gaza children to wade through sewage as creepy, evil blockade continues

By Juan Cole, blog
November 18, 2013

The health minister in the Gaza Strip has warned that the territory is on the verge of a major health catastrophe.

Children are risking cholera and worse because they have to walk through raw sewage to get to school. The sewage has flooded the streets in Gaza City because the sewage treatment plant has no electricity. It has no electricity because the Israelis are blockading the strip, including its children (50% of the population). The Israelis are not letting cheap fuel in. Some inexpensive fuel used to come in from Egypt, but the military there has blocked smuggling tunnels leading into the strip from the Sinai Peninsula.

The Israeli military has since 2007 punished the whole Palestinian population because the Hamas Party won the 2006 elections. It actually produced figures on how much nutrition could be let in while keeping both children and adults among the Palestinians “on a diet.” US State Department cables revealed by Wikileaks show that the Israelis are deliberately keeping the Palestinians of Gaza just on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. As a result, 56 percent of residents are “food insecure.” They aren’t starving but they are just one or two lost paychecks away from starving. This kind of social engineering experiment on human beings (i.e. keeping Palestinians “on a diet”) is unconscionable to anyone in their right mind. It is also illegal in international law to impose collective punishment on an Occupied population. Some 70% of the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are from families expelled from what is now southern Israel by the 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign of Jewish settlers. Many could walk home in an hour or two but they are kept in refugee camps by the Israeli military. They are besieged on three sides by Israel and on one by Egypt, whose officers are cooperating with the Israeli-imposed blockade.

Here is a paraphrase of a report on the situation in the Palestinian Gaza Strip from AP:

A Palestinian official in Gaza City , Gaza Strip, said that treatment plant sewage is overflowing into the streets because of the shortage of electricity needed for waste treatment . Gaza officials said that the spill could harm the environment and affect 20,000 people. The smell is rancid and the water is lapping at car tires. Gaza has been suffering from fuel shortages and power cuts that cause hours of outages. The electricity brownouts are due to closure by Egypt of smuggling tunnels on the border with the Gaza Strip , which provides fuel to the Palestinian territories. The transfer of higher-priced fuel prices by the Israelis continued.

BBC Monitoring quotes from the Israeli Arabic press:

Al-Ittihad [organ of the Communist Party] [From editorial] “As though the accumulated tragedies which the people of Gaza Strip live as a result of the occupation, its crimes and siege, are not enough, power cuts for 18 hours a day constitute a tangible danger to life, safety and health of Gazans… The power cuts are caused by a fuel crisis… The matter has reached the extent of threatening lives of premature babies in hospitals and poverty stricken quarters where the evil has reached the extent of sewage water flooding streets and homes… It is the duty of those with a conscience to make a resounding call in order to save the people of Gaza from this killing darkness, killing siege and killing silence…

Raw sewage flows from the flooded street into someone’s home in Gaza City, November 2013

Sewage floods Gaza streets as lack of fuel plunges strip into darkness

By Alex Shams, Ma’an news
November 17, 2013

BETHLEHEM — Sewage has flooded the streets of a central Gaza City neighborhood as an ongoing fuel shortage and the shutdown of the besieged region’s sole functioning power plant has caused the failure of the Strip’s main waste water treatment plant.

Residents of al-Zaytoun in central Gaza City were surprised Wednesday night to find the streets of their neighborhood flooded with refuse and waste, compounding the suffering of Gaza residents amidst escalating power outages.

Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

Even transportation across the 41-km long territory is becoming impossible, as drivers wait for hours at a time for access to small amounts of gasoline.

But the flood of sewage through central Gaza has made even crossing the street a nightmare for local residents.

Ezz Al Zanoon, a photographer and resident of al-Zaytoun, told Ma’an that on Wednesday night the lack of electricity caused the sewage plant to fail.

“When the pumps failed, sewage flooded the streets. Even until now (Friday night), there’s sewage in the streets.”

Palestinian worker carries a boy walking down the street flooded with sewage in the Sabra neighborhood in Gaza City. Photo by Mohammed Talatene, 13 Nov 2013.

“The streets are closed, kids can’t play, people can’t go to work. Everything is affected,” he added.

There is fear, there is no life’

Ma’an spoke with Al Zanoon in a telephone interview to get a sense of how Gazans were coping under increasingly difficult circumstances.

“The electricity goes off for 12 hours at a time, and then comes back on for six, and then back off again for 12,” Al Zanoon explained.

Even though many Gaza City residents, businesses, and public institutions have generators in case the electricity goes out, the lack of fuel means that these cannot operate. As a result, every aspect of daily life is shutting down.

Photo by MaanImages/Ezz Al Zanoon

“After 8 p.m. no one is in the street anymore. Everywhere there is fear, there is no life. At night, there are no lights on the street, no cars outside, there is nothing.”

“We can’t even move around the Gaza Strip, as small as it is. There is not even fuel for cars,” he added.

“Everything has changed.”

“I don’t have electricity so I can’t work most of the time, at home or in the office. I take pictures and then I can’t do anything, I just have to wait for the electricity to come back.”

“Two days ago I went to the hospital for an operation. While I was there the electricity cut off for 10 minutes. Even though the hospital has a generator, the lack of fuel meant this wasn’t working. At a hospital the electricity cannot go off for 10 minutes, the whole system and all of the machines go off as well,” he said.

“If the crisis doesn’t get solved soon, we will be left with only four hours of electricity at a time,” Al Zanoon added.

‘What are we guilty of?’

The lack of fuel means that water is also an increasingly scarce resource across the Strip, available to many residents for only two hours a day.

“In al-Zaytoun, where I live, the municipality water station distributes water from 2 to 4 a.m., so everyone stays up all night to take advantage of the water when it comes on,” Al Zanoon said.

“But then sometimes if there is no electricity, it doesn’t come. And so everyone sits there waiting until the early morning, and nothing comes.”

“The people are the victims. No one can even think about politics anymore.”

“All they think about is how can we get the water to work? How can I wash my children? That’s what people are talking about, they can’t think about political issues.”

“What are we guilty of?”

“People don’t even think about the nation anymore, all they can think about is how to survive and how to solve their own problems. People are terrified,” he added.

‘When Sisi came, Gaza was destroyed’

Until July of this year, Al Zanoon said, life in Gaza had been improving significantly over the worst years of the Israeli blockade prior.

However, when the Egyptian military overthrew President Morsi in a coup and began destroying the tunnels that provided a vital lifeline for the besieged Gaza Strip, everything changed.

“Today there is a lack of food, of medicine, of everything. But a year ago, everything was fine. After the internal issues in Egypt, Gaza died. When (General) Sisi came, Gaza was destroyed.”

“All checkpoints and passages were closed, and everything was destroyed. Nothing could enter. Everything was closed.”

“Egypt allowed us to depend on them, and then they cut it all off. They are the source of the lack of fuel.”

The blame, however, does not fall only on Egypt in Al Zanoon’s mind.

“I blame the Gaza government, the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli occupation, who are the biggest three factors in the crisis in addition to Egypt.”

“They all work for their own benefit, and the Israeli occupation benefits from this the most.”

‘We just want to live dignified lives’

The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of the month, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a 7-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.

For Gaza residents, however, the distribution of guilt among various parties means little as the power shuts off, water is unavailable, and sewage overflows onto city streets.

“I don’t believe in any parties. We don’t want problems or wars with anyone. We just want to live life, to have electricity, water, to be able to communicate, and to move freely,” Al Zanoon told Ma’an.

“We ask for life, for no war, and for a dignified life. We love life. We love peace. We just want to live dignified lives.”

Gaza city, November 17, 2013

Sewage Is Spilling Into Gaza Streets As Egypt Tunnel Closures Cut Off Power

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi, Reuters/Business Insider
November 14, 2013

GAZA – Children waded through sewage submerging the streets of a central Gaza neighborhood on Thursday, a day after one of the blockaded Palestinian enclave’s largest waste water treatment plants stopped for lack of fuel.

Fetid muck, which bubbles up from manholes and overflows from the idle plant when waste goes untreated, could soon spill into the homes of tens of thousands more residents in downtown Gaza City, officials and residents said.

Egypt’s months-long crackdown on cross-border smuggling tunnels that used to bring fuel in cheaply has already forced Gaza’s only power plant to stop, meaning two weeks of daily 12-hour blackouts for the territory’s 1.8 million residents.

“This is the start of a catastrophe and unless the world listens to our cries, a real disaster may hit Gaza and its people,” Gaza municipality’s Sa’ad El-Deen Al-Tbash said.

“This is a humanitarian, not a political issue. Gaza’s children did nothing to deserve being stuck in sewage,” he told Reuters.

Gazan municipality officials said the treatment plant served 120,000 residents. They warned that other waste water facilities may soon run out of petrol to fuel generators.

Along one street, passersby covered their noses, and some residents driving donkey carts helped those slogging through pools of waste.

Egypt’s closure of most of the estimated 1,200 tunnels run by the Islamist Hamas group has virtually stopped Egyptian fuel coming into Gaza, forcing Palestinians to buy Israeli imported petrol at double the price – 6.7 shekels ($1.9) a liter.

Egypt’s military backed government fear the tunnels are used to take weapons into the Sinai Peninsula, and accuse Hamas of backing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted by the security forces in July.

Israel has imposed its own blockade on Gaza, allowing in fuel and a restricted list of imports since Hamas took control in 2007. Hamas has spurned Western calls to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Unable to buy the expensive Israeli petrol, some Gaza taxi drivers have looked for alternatives in their kitchens, using gas from domestic tanks or mixing cooking oil with diesel.

“I can’t fill my car with Israeli petrol … I couldn’t make a living if I did,” said a Gaza taxi driver who installed a bottle of cooking gas in his vehicle.

He asked not to give his name to avoid hefty police fines for using the fuels, which are deemed a health hazard.

Despite the risks, the practice is widespread.

“Passing through some Gaza streets, it smells like a big pot of french fries,” quipped one Gaza Facebook user.

Gaza economist Maher Al-Tabbaa’ said the shortages of fuel and power meant that many businesses could not afford to run a generator, which costs about 100 shekels ($28.5) an hour.

“The continuing stoppage of the Gaza power plant for 18 hours a day foreshadows a real catastrophe that might affect the basic food security of the people as well as the health and education sectors,” Tabbaa’ said.

The fuel shortage is affecting life at every level.

Residents have taken to planning their social lives around the power cuts. Many make sure not to leave homes in the evening without a torch.

“The first question someone asks when invited over by a friend is ‘will there be electricity? I don’t want to climb the stairs’,” said Ali Mohammed, an electrician.

“I blame the whole world,” he said.

Raw Sewage and Anger Flood Gaza’s Streets as Electricity Runs Low

By Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren, NY Times
November 20, 2013

GAZA CITY — Raw sewage has flooded streets in a southern Gaza City neighborhood in recent days, threatening a health disaster, after a shortage of electricity and cheap diesel fuel from Egypt led the Hamas government to shut down Gaza’s lone power plant, causing a pump station to flood.

Three more sewage stations in Gaza City and 10 others elsewhere in the Gaza Strip are close to overflowing, sanitation officials here said, and 3.5 million cubic feet of raw sewage is seeping into the Mediterranean Sea daily. The sanitation department may soon no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza homes.

“Any day that passes without a solution has disastrous effects,” Farid Ashour, director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said Tuesday in an interview. “We haven’t faced a situation as dangerous as this time.”

The sewage crisis is the most acute of an array of problems since the Islamist Hamas movement that governs Gaza shut down the power plant on Nov. 1. Four months earlier Egypt’s new military-backed government closed the smuggling tunnels that were used to transport around one million liters (about 260,000 gallons) of diesel here each day.

Hamas has refused to import Israeli diesel because of taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority.

Nothing moves on the streets but sewage. Photo by Mohammed Salem / Reuters

Having gotten used to years of scheduled blackouts, generally eight hours without electricity two of every three days, Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are now facing daily power failures of 12 or even 18 hours.

Businesses have cut back production, hospitals are rationing electricity to keep dialysis and cardiac support systems running, students are doing Internet research in the middle of the night and battery sales are brisk. Everywhere, the drone of generators mixes with the odor of kerosene lamps.

Nema Hamad, who is 64 and has sleep apnea, struggles to keep from suffocating. Some nights, her sons run improvised lines from neighbors who have electricity to keep Ms. Hamad’s airway pressure mask working. Three times, they paid $100 for Ms. Hamad to sleep in a private hospital. Once, she woke up gasping for air when the electricity went off unexpectedly and ran into the street, desperately looking for oxygen.

“This is not a life,” Ms. Hamad said as she sat on a mattress in dim candlelight. “Sometimes, I fear that it might be the last time I sleep.”

The electricity shortage comes a year after eight days of intense cross-border violence that killed 167 Palestinians and six Israelis, and it is a profound sign of how Gaza’s situation has shifted since then. The past 12 months have been the quietest in a decade in terms of fire exchanged with Israel, though Israel’s air force struck a weapons facility and two tunnels on Tuesday night after reports of rocket fire near Gaza’s border earlier in the day. Israel has also eased some of its restrictions on the strip, but political changes in Egypt have left a siege of another sort.

The number of trucks bringing goods, including fuel, into Gaza from Israel has increased 18 percent since the ouster in July of President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, according to Gisha, an Israeli group that advocates freedom of movement.

The number of Palestinians allowed to leave Gaza through Israel’s Erez crossing is up nearly 30 percent since July, Gisha records show, while exits through Egypt’s Rafah crossing — which has lately been closed as often as not — in October were a third of what they had been in January.

Closing the tunnels has left thousands of construction workers without work and other residents frustrated over scarce supplies and rising prices for groceries and electronics, cars and other consumer products. But the idling of the power plant, which by week’s end will have lasted longer than the record 21-day closing in 2008, has hit many people hard.

Gaza requires 400 megawatts of electricity daily to keep the lights on full time, according to the Hamas-run power authority. For decades, it has bought 120 megawatts from Israel through direct cables. During the yearlong presidency of Mr. Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood spawned Hamas, Gaza received 30 megawatts directly from Egypt and enough diesel via the tunnels to provide 85 megawatts through its power plant.

The plant, which opened in 2002, could produce up to 140 megawatts daily before Israel bombed it after the 2006 kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. It was idle for seven months then and has never returned to full capacity. But Hamas officials say the overall electricity shortage has worsened from about 40 percent before Mr. Morsi was ousted to 65 percent now, and will rise further as winter sets in.

“You’re asking me why? Ask the world why instead,” Mayor Rafiq Mekki of Gaza City said as he toured sewage-filled streets around the flooded Zeitoun pumping station. “We are under siege, and ask the world which besieges us this question. We called on all international organizations to intervene, but no one cares so far.”

Ihab Bessisso, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, said it had rescinded a longstanding tax exemption on fuel for Gaza because it was unfair to West Bank residents.

Hamas has since refused the $1.62 per liter price, insisting on paying no more than 79 cents per liter, Mr. Bessisso said. Instead, it closed the plant.

So Omar al-Khouli has cut in half the bread he makes at his bakery here, running a generator when the power goes out only to finish the batch in the oven. He plans to start closing the shop on mornings when there is no electricity.

“I blame Israel, the Ramallah government and Hamas for the crisis,” said Mr. Khouli, referring to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. “They should work together and find a solution for this because it’s the people who are paying the price.”

Some people have bought expensive Chinese-made inverters that provide enough current to light a lamp or two and recharge cellphones.

Yasmeen Ayyoub, a psychology student at Gaza’s Islamic University, said that when power is out during the day, she is forced to study from midnight to 6 a.m. “at the expense of my sleeping hours.”

And in the Sabra neighborhood, near the Zeitoun pumping station, which has flooded three times since Sunday, the stench of sewage hung over the pools of standing water in the streets. Mosquitoes abounded, and residents said their children were vomiting and had diarrhea.

“Every day, we call the electricity company and they say, ‘It’s not our responsibility,’ ” complained Thabet Khatab, 56, a grocer, who was busy piling dirt in front of his house to prevent sewage from seeping inside a second time. “We call the municipality, but they say, ‘Bring diesel for us so we can run the generator in the pumping station.’ ”

Mr. Khatab’s neighbor Nahla Quzat, a mother of eight, said, “They say there is no diesel for the generator, but the government’s cars don’t seem to be suffering from a lack of diesel.”

As Gaza Drowns in Sewage, UN Rapporteur Announces First UN World Toilet Day

By Julie Webb-Pullman, Palestine Chronicle
November 16, 2013

As streets in Gaza flow with excrement, as families stay awake until 2am to take advantage of the two hours that water will flow through the taps – if they are lucky – the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, celebrated the UN General Assembly’s decision declaring 19th of November as UN World Toilet Day with a Press Release on November 15.

The irony will not escape Palestinians in Gaza – they must be asking themselves “Is she for real? Or is it just a very cynical preliminary to announcing Gaza’s latest distinction – from being the largest open air prison in the world, to being the largest open air toilet?”

“I hope this declaration galvanizes national and international action to reach the billions of people who still do not benefit from this basic human right,” the Special Rapporteur said in the statement released the day after the al-Sabra neighborhood in al-Zaytoun, Gaza City, was flooded with sewage.

Perhaps she could make a special effort to contact Israel and Egypt directly, being the UN member states that are preventing the entry of fuel supplies into Gaza necessary to run the power plant that provides the electricity to run the sanitation and water pumps that would enable Gazans to enjoy this ‘basic human right.’

Perhaps she could make a special effort to remind the Palestinian Authority (PA) to take off their blinkers and ‘observe’ the conditions of their fellow statesmen and women in Gaza, and maybe even suggest the PA cease colluding with Israel in extorting exorbitant prices for fuel from the besieged Gazan authorities – fuel which the European Community has funded, but which both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are seeking to profiteer from by imposing on Gaza excessive price hikes (Israel), and additional taxes (the PA).

And perhaps the United Nations and its member states could ‘put their money where their mouth is’ – they still have three days in which to clean up their act, and ensure that World Toilet Day is not the day that Gaza is officially accorded that questionable distinction.

Julie Webb-Pullman is a freelance journalist from New Zealand who has been living in and writing from Gaza since 2011. She contributes to SCOOP Independent News, Palestine Chronicle, and other online news sites.

Below: children protest at the darkness that envelops them when the sun goes down. There is no electric light in Gaza.

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