North Africa, West Asia

Humanitarian crisis worsens in Gaza

The over 10 year-long blockade of Gaza is having a devastating impact on the lives of people living in the strip, affecting healthcare, water systems, and the ability to live and work.

Anoushka Canagaretna
11 August 2017
Gaza photo.jpg

A farmer is using irrigation which has been severely affected by the electricity crisis. Photo credit the Agricultural Development Association (PARC).Families in Gaza are living on as little as three hours of electricity per day. Gaza’s only power plant completely shut down in April due to lack of fuel and has barely been functioning since. In June, the Israeli Authorities halved the power supply to Gaza, at the Palestinian Authority’s request to reduce payments. Once again, ordinary Palestinians are suffering the consequences of an over 10 year-long blockade and ongoing political tensions. This is having a devastating impact on the daily lives of people, affecting healthcare, water systems and the ability to live and work.

The Culture and Free Thought Association, a Gaza based charity for children and young people, has said that the electricity situation has worsened since 2006 when Israeli Forces launched missiles at the power plant. They report that since then, “electricity has been used as a measure of collective punishment in the Gaza Strip”. Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, warns that “the situation in Gaza will deteriorate further, making the area virtually unliveable”.

Only 3% of the water in Gaza is suitable for consumption, with just 10% of the population having access to safe drinking water. This is due to high salinity and damaged sewage systems following repeated military offensives, which are now unable to function with the lack of electricity and are pumping raw sewage into the sea.  

William Bell, Christian Aid’s Acting Head of the Middle East recently visited and reports: “95% of the tap water is nearly as salty as sea water. It’s searingly hot here but you can forget about air con and fans. Forget communications; internet and mobile phones signals come and go without warning. Swimming is banned because raw sewage is being pumped into the sea as the water pumps cannot cope without electricity. Few are allowed to leave this bit of land and I know of patients who have died waiting for permits to access treatment”.

Gaza’s health care system is at crisis point, with hospitals dealing with significant power outages that seriously endanger lives. They are currently operating on half of the medical supplies usually provided by the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Medical Relief Society reports that the Palestinian Authority has recently reduced the salaries of its employees in the Gaza Strip and Physicians for Human Rights Israel warns that “health rights are being held hostage by political infighting”.

The power shortage is having severe effects elsewhere. The Women’s Affairs Centre are reporting "loss of livelihoods, income and self-employment opportunities” caused by the inability to conduct essential tasks such as communication, refrigeration and washing. Water is only pumped to houses every three days and individuals never know when the electricity will be available, with many people having to wake up in the middle of the night to use the power when it can be accessed.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights advise that the electricity shortage “will reduce the work of water wells and pumping stations to 60% and desalination plants to 80% of their capacity”. Farming communities are also significantly affected, with the power outage threatening production and food security. The Agricultural Development Association (PARC) says that many farmers have been forced to stop working. Some have had to sell their land to avoid high expenses, while others bear the high cost of buying generators and fuel to keep production going, which has a serious impact on the market as they have to increase their prices.

Last month saw the people of Gaza enter the 11th year of a land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel and partly by Egypt, which restricts and largely prevents entry and exit for individuals –  stifles import and export for all, and purposefully cuts Gaza off from the natural resources it is entitled to. Subjected to three increasingly destructive military offensives over the last eight years, over 50,000 people remain internally displaced after their homes were destroyed. They are still prevented from rebuilding homes due to the severe restrictions imposed by the blockade on the entry of reconstruction materials into Gaza.

We must hold Israeli Authorities and all other duty-bearers – including the international community – to account for longstanding and increasing violations against Gaza’s civilian population.  That is why Christian Aid is calling for the UK Government to take action to lift the blockade. To add your voice sign the petition by Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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