Update on 13 November, 2018
Gaza’s electricity crisis is nowhere close to being solved. The Strip currently relies on emergency fuel provided by the United Nations (UN) -Assisted Emergency Fuel Program to power back-up generators that allow health, water and sanitation facilities to keep functioning. However, the funds allocated for 2018 have been depleted. By the end of August 2018, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) declared that Gaza only had enough emergency fuel to keep services running until mid-September. Shortly after, the United States government announced it would cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which will lead to a yearly $350 million financing deficit.
On 5 September, OCHA called for $4.5 million of emergency funds to buy fuel and keep lifesaving services running until the end of 2018, stating that Gazan hospitals were on the verge of closing, as indispensable medical equipment could not function without electricity. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reiterated those concerns, stating that the Al-Shifa Hospital had only one week of fuel left to operate fully.
Al-Shifa is the biggest hospital in Gaza and it provides healthcare to approximately 500,000 people per year. Its emergency department has been running at full capacity since March 2018 in order to treat Palestinians who were severely wounded by the live ammunition fired by the Israeli army in ongoing clashes at the border. The closure of Al-Shifa will result in a humanitarian catastrophe, as many patients will be referred to other hospitals in Gaza – which have lower capacity and are also threatened by the prospect of being forced to cease operation – or be forced to travel outside the Gaza City to receive healthcare, which requires a travel permit issued by the Israeli government. In 2017, 54 Palestinian patients died while awaiting their permit.
On 17 September, OCHA Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, announced the injection of $1 million to the UN-Assisted Emergency Fuel Program in order to prevent the collapse of medical services, which would lead to a serious humanitarian crisis. Nevertheless, the allocated sum will only provide a month’s worth of fuel and will not guarantee the attainment of Gaza’s needs in energy until the end of 2018.
Defenders for Medical Impartiality (DMI) calls upon the UN to review the funding strategy and budget allocation to specialized institutions that bring aid and relief to Palestinians. Durable solutions need to be implemented in order to avoid urgent situations that call for emergency funding. The US withdrew from its UNRWA funding responsibilities precisely as the institution called for more financing. The US’ disengagement hurts this search for sustainable solutions, and DMI urges the international community to denounce the US’ decision to withdraw its monetary assistance to UNRWA.
The Israeli blockade on Gaza worsens the crisis as it impedes the delivery of fuel and medicine. As an occupying power, Israel has numerous obligations under international law. DMI urges the Israeli government to provide for the basic needs of the occupied population, such as health care. The Israeli government should also cooperate more with the Palestinian Authority regarding the issuing of travel permits to patients in need of medical care.
On 3 January 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that Gaza’s hospitals will face an almost total power blackout by the end of February unless funding is secured to keep generators running. It is estimated that 500,000 liters of fuel are required each month to sustain hospital services in Gaza.
Gaza’s power crisis began in mid-2017 following a dispute over fuel taxes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Electricity outages last up to 19 hours each day. Hospitals continue to depend on back-up diesel-powered generators to maintain services. While helping avert a total power failure, generators are oftentimes overloaded and prone to malfunction.
Dr. Mahmoud Daher, head of the WHO’s office in Gaza, warned the strip’s health system is on “the edge of collapse.” It is estimated that electricity fluctuations damaged 150 essential medical machines, which require repair or replacement. The ongoing restriction on imports caused by the Israeli blockade only confounds the situation. Medical workers are cutting back on basic procedures, and are unable to consistently perform key functions like elective surgery, sterilization, and diagnostic services. The waiting time for elective surgery ranges around 42 weeks, well above the threshold of 24 weeks set by the Ministry of Health. The situation is also impacting the ability to collect, store and transport blood at acceptable standards.
On 4 January 2018, the Palestinian Authority requested that residents in Gaza begin paying their electric bills. Since 2006, the Palestinian Authority has paid Israel to supply electricity to Gaza. Mohammad Abu Jayyab, head of the Gaza Journal of Economics, responded to the government’s proposal saying, “… a large portion of the people in Gaza cannot afford to live – let alone pay for electricity.”
Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel must assume responsibility for the situation in Gaza and are once again called upon to immediately end the electricity crisis there.