Life in darkness; living without electricity in the Gaza Strip

Friday, May 26, 2017 - 11:01

Palestinians in Gaza are suffering the effects of a deepening electricity crisis following the shut-down of Gaza’s sole power plant in mid-April after fuel supplies dried up.  Over one month on, the situation is becoming increasingly critical. 

I spoke to ActionAid Palestine’s Programs Coordinator in Gaza, Yasser Toshtash, to find out what life is like when the electricity runs out.

What is the current situation now regarding the electricity crisis?

The situation is really terrible.  Electricity is available for an average of 2-3 hours per day, or up to 4 hours on a good day.  Supplies of water are also limited as the pump that pumps water from the municipality to homes does not have regular or sufficient power to operate properly. 

Lately the power has been coming on for a few hours during the middle of the night.  In my house we need electricity to pump water to the water tanks on the roof.  If the electricity only comes in the early hours we have to turn the water pump on at that time, but it is noisy and ends up waking up the whole household.

It is now over one month since the crisis started but we don’t have much hope that the situation will improve any time soon. 

How are people being affected?

The crisis is affecting every aspect of people’s lives.  We don’t have enough electricity to light our homes or to operate household appliances like fridges or washing machines, or enough water to take regular showers or flush toilets.  Hospitals are particularly badly affected.  They are operating only critical services and relying heavily on generators for lighting and to power equipment like kidney dialysis machines and incubators for babies. 

It is the period of final exams in schools and universities, so children and students are really suffering.  I have 7 children at school and university.  They either have to study by candle or torchlight, or they end up getting up in the middle of the night to study because that’s the only time there is electricity for light.

File 37501Yasser helps his children Odai, 15, and Ragaad, 7, study by torchlight

The conditions in schools are also not good.  Now it is nearly summer, the temperatures reach the high 20s / early 30s during the day.  Without electricity for fans, it is really difficult to keep the classrooms cool – a big problem particularly in government schools where there can be up to 50 children in one class.  Normally in summer we would go to the beach to cool off in the sea.  But now there is not enough electricity to ensure proper treatment of wastewater and sewage before it is pumped into the sea, so the authorities have banned bathing because it is not safe. 

The crisis also has economic impacts.  Buying fuel for personal home generators is an added cost. Not being able to use the fridge means that people are having to buy fresh meat and vegetables on a daily basis, rather than once a week like they normally do, which is more expensive and time consuming.  My oldest son now has to go to the market every day, which means we are spending 30 Shekels [USD 10] per week on transport instead of the usual 5 Shekels [USD 1.5]. 

Psychologically it is extremely difficult.  I can see the stress in my wife and children.  We are all tired from getting up during the night to study or use the washing machine when the power comes on.  I feel sad that I am not able to water the fruit tree that my father gave me before he died. 

We feel forgotten by everyone, including the international community.  The blockade [Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, now in its 10th year] makes it very difficult for us to leave here, so we cannot escape this crisis.   

Who is hardest hit?

Women, children, and those with limited income are suffering the most.  Women are affected since they have to spend more time washing clothes and doing other household chores manually.  They also suffer more from the lack of water for personal hygiene.

Children are not able to keep up with their studies, and are tired from having to study late at night or in the very early hours when the electricity comes on. 

People who are unemployed or have very limited income are also really badly affected.  I am fortunate in that I have a job and can just afford the extra 560 Shekels [USD 155] per month it now costs me to buy additional drinking water to supplement the regular water supply, but many others can’t. 

How is ActionAid supporting people at this time?

ActionAid is working with our local partners in Gaza as well as with other international and national organisations to further assess the impacts of the crisis and support those most in need. 

We are also coordinating efforts demanding an end to the current crisis as well as the ongoing blockade of Gaza which violates international law and denies Palestinians in Gaza their fundamental human rights.

Gaza electricity crisis in numbers

  • 1.9 million people – the population of the Gaza Strip, all affected by the current crisis
  • 100,000 cubic meters – the amount of raw sewage or poorly treated effluent that is now being discharged to the sea daily
  • 35% - percentage of the population whose water supply has been reduced to once every four days as a result of the crisis
  • US$500,000 – the amount of emergency funding provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the end of April to keep essential health services running
  • US$10 million – the amount of funding required per year to support priority facilities when the Gaza Power Plant is fully out of operation