A new study by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza shows that 80% of Gaza’s population live much of their lives in the dark, with only 10-12 hours of electricity per day. This issue becomes extra problematic during the peak of summer and poses a threat to the health and daily life for Gazans, with the majority of the population being unable to refrigerate food and wastewater treatment plants unable to operate.
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According to the study, the chronic, prolonged electricity shortages and power cuts are taking a psychological toll on people, with 94% of Gazans surveyed reporting that their mental health is affected by the situation. Furthermore, the recent intense escalation of hostilities in May damaged infrastructure and caused massive shortages of supply through the major power lines, leaving people with only 4-5 hours of electricity per day.
While some can afford additional electricity supply through generators at least 500,000 people cannot afford additional power, so they are forced to spend most of their day without electricity.
"We have a small battery to feed the LED lights and we recharge it only when we have electricity. It survives for an hour or two only, then we stay in pitch black. These LEDs go out most of the time," says Ahmed Darwish, a 64-year-old father from Bureij refugee camp.
‧ 94% of those surveyed said the prolonged situation had affected their mental health.
‧ 82% of respondents told the ICRC that they were unable to refrigerate food because of the situation.
‧ 27% of those surveyed told the ICRC they could not access any alternative form of power when the municipal power went off. Of these, 91% simply could not afford to pay for more power.
‧ 57% said that they could access alternative forms of power, but it was not enough to meet their needs in life or work.
In the ICRC survey, Gazans describe a situation where the unavailability of electricity has made daily life extremely difficult for years. It is almost impossible to do housework, devices frequently malfunction when power is out, there is no running water, schoolwork cannot be finished, people have to shoulder a massive financial burden to buy extra power (in the form of generators) and the power cuts even contributed to environmental pollution that impacts people's health.
"It feels just like a cemetery when the power is out. Pitch black. I light up the oil lamp. Even the LED lights, they are insufficient because the batteries are not fully charged. I also don't always have oil for the lamp, and it is also insufficient for my kids to study on," says Mariam Hunaideq, a mother of six who lives in Nahr Al-Barid in the southern Gaza Strip.
The findings of the survey confirm long-standing testimony by people in Gaza and ICRC's own observations. With electricity supply reduced to three to four hours a day during peak crisis times, people in Gaza experience heavy limitations to going about their daily business. Even when Gaza enjoys a period of calm and electricity supply reaches 10-12 hours a day, extreme heat and import restrictions of fuel to run the Gaza power plant pose a threat to health and daily life for Gazans.
The lack of electricity also means that wastewater treatment plants can no longer be operated, and wastewater is pumped into the sea untreated polluting large parts of Gaza's shoreline. Not only does this pollute the sea, it contributes to the faster spreading of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which endanger the health of people in Gaza and beyond.
"Electricity has become an issue in Gaza that profoundly impacts basic services like water supply, wastewater treatment, health facilities, as well as also businesses and irrigation of crops and fruit. Particularly in urban contexts like Gaza, people's well-being and public health conditions strongly depend on electricity, even after the fighting has ended. In 2021, Gazans should not be living like this. We are calling on the authorities concerned and the international community to recognize the situation and work towards improving it", says Mirjam Müller, the head of ICRC's Sub delegation in Gaza.
The Gaza Resilience Programme
Electricity is not the only unreliable service in Gaza. There are also issues with the water supply and water treatment, health services and irrigation for local food production. All these systems are interconnected. When one fails, the others can too.
The ICRC launched its Gaza Resilience Programme in 2020, which aims to understand these systems and how they are interconnected and find ways to increase their resilience to system shocks, including improving water and wastewater systems and power supplies in a resilient way.
One example is to automize operations of critical infrastructure components such as electricity transformers and pumping stations so that no one must risk their life to operate them manually in times of conflict. The Resilience Programme also provides a more efficient and resilient management of Gaza's interlinked water and electricity systems.
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