Crisis Looms in Gaza as Hamas Struggles to Deal With Energy Crisis

Cries for aid as Hamas, Palestinian Authority trade blame over high taxes, unpaid bills, as Strip’s power plant runs out of fuel

Palestinian children stand at the entrance of a shop lit up using a generator  during a power cut in a poor neighbourhood of Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on April 17, 2017.
Palestinian children stand at the entrance of a shop lit up using a generator during a power cut in a poor neighbourhood of Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on April 17, 2017. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

The Gaza Strip’s severe power shortage will grow even worse unless its generating plant receives new fuel supplies, the Gaza Electricity Authority warned on Tuesday.

Since Sunday, the power plant has been operating at minimal capacity, with the result that Gazans have power only for five or six hours a day, rather than the usual eight.

Gaza’s Health Ministry warned on Tuesday that the power shortage could create health problems and urged the international community to step in. It said the lack of steady power to hospitals, coupled with a shortage of fuel to operate emergency generators, could cause the hospitals to collapse. Moreover, it added, the hospitals are already treating only urgent cases, endangering the health of patients who must wait for treatment.

A Palestinian woman walks past a power plant in Gaza City on April 16, 2017.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

The Electricity Authority said it can’t afford to buy fuel from Israel because of the high taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority. Operating the plant at 50 percent capacity – which has been the norm for the past 10 years – costs about 50 million shekels ($14 million) a month, it explained in a statement. But without the tax, the cost would drop to about 20 million shekels a month, enabling the utility to buy more fuel, it said.

Hamas accuses the PA of deliberately prolonging the crisis, and of imposing the taxes to begin with, in an attempt to put pressure on the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip that will weaken support for the territory’s Hamas government.

The PA counters that Gaza residents and municipalities owe it about four billion shekels, of which 400 million shekels is owed by the municipalities alone.

“Hamas controls the Strip and can’t evade responsibility for the government offices and municipalities in its control,” said a source close to the PA. “If the municipalities paid their debt, that would supply fuel for the power plant for many months.”

Nevertheless, he added, “there’s are huge questions regarding the amount collected for the electricity and who pays and who doesn’t, and therefore, responsibility for the crisis is comprehensive, resting with the PA, which collects taxes; Hamas, which doesn’t pay its debts; and also Israel, which isn’t allowing the advancement of projects to solve the crisis.”

Gaza residents view the recent fuel shortage primarily as yet another sign of the deepening crisis between Hamas, which controls the Strip, and the PA, which controls the West Bank, similar to the PA’s decision to slash salaries for its Gaza employees earlier this month.

Electricity crises aren’t uncommon in Gaza. A similar crisis erupted in January, which was solved when Qatar donated money to buy fuel. But even when there’s no special crisis, over the past decade, Gaza residents have been getting power for only half the day or less.

According to the Electricity Authority, Gaza needs 600 megawatts of power per day. The power plant can produce at most 120, and in recent years, has generally produced only about half of that. Another approximately 120 megawatts comes via power lines from Israel and about 20 megawatts via power lines from Egypt, but the Egyptian supply is irregular.

The result is that Gaza suffers from a chronic power shortage, which becomes especially severe during the peak use seasons of winter and summer.