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

Read Full Article on NYTIMES.COMGAZA 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.sewage 

Mohammed Salem/Reuters

A Palestinian man and boy navigate the streets of Gaza City, which are flooded with sewage.

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.

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 toGisha, 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.

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