UN Envoy Says Electricity Cuts Endanger Lives in Gaza

Israel, PA and Hamas 'all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza's residents,' tells the UN Security Council

Palestinians sit around a fire outside their home in Gaza City.
Palestinians sit around a fire outside their home in Gaza City. Hatem Moussa/AP

The UN's Mideast envoy warned on Friday that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will face a "humanitarian crisis" if their already meager electricity supply is cut further as a result of political infighting.

Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement that governs Gaza "all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza's residents," Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the region, told the UN Security Council.

He spoke from Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority has been saying for weeks that it would slash its payments to Israel for Gaza's electricity, and Israel announced Thursday that it would reduce the power supply, which already is down to about four hours a day. No date was set.

"The UN has warned that without addressing the structural problems of Gaza's electricity supply we would face a humanitarian crisis," Mladenov said.

"How long do you think they can survive if this is further reduced to two hours of electricity per day?" he added. "Who will pay the price of the ensuing violence and escalation?"

Electricity-driven drinking water is available for a few hours every two to four days, the envoy said. Hospitals are barely functioning without power, postponing surgeries and reducing cleaning and sterilization. And for lack of irrigation, food prices are soaring.

In addition, partly operational treatment plants channel the equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools of raw sewage into the Mediterranean every day.

The Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas quarreled with rival Hamas over fuel taxes last month, after which a power plant that Gaza relied on for nearly one-third of the territory's electricity stopped working.

Mladenov said the UN is offering emergency help to the 2 million Gaza residents with fuel for generators, water, medical needs and sanitation, but such reserves will run out in weeks.

"I am today warning the Security Council that unless urgent measures are taken to de-escalate, the crisis risks spiraling out of control with devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike," the envoy said.

The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for the past decade, amid violence that has taken thousands of lives in what Mladenov called "a political tug-of-war" between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Islamic militant group.

The schism between the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has left Palestinians deeply divided. Some observers say the Palestinian Authority's refusal to pay for Israeli energy was one way to try to win back some control of Gaza.

"In Gaza we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open," Mladenov said Friday.