Gaza Hospitals Warn Shutdown Imminent Due to Electricity Crisis

The UN promised to help buy diesel fuel for the hospitals' emergency generators but this has not been confirmed yet, official says

A woman working in her kitchen in Gaza's Shati refugee camp during a power outage, April  25, 2017.
Mohammed Salem/Reuters

A decision by the Palestinian Authority to stop paying for the electricity that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip will reportedly begin taking its toll on the hospitals in the Hamas-controlled territory.

The director of hospitals in Gaza, Dr. Abdel Latif al-Haj, told the head of an Israeli-based mobile clinic of Physicians for Human Rights, Dr. Salah Haj Yahya, that as of next Sunday, three Gaza hospitals would shut down due to electricity shortages. These include the mental hospital in Gaza City, the al-Dura children’s hospital in the southern part of the city — one of only two pediatric hospitals in the Gaza Strip — and a hospital in Beit Hanun, in the northern part of the strip.

The Palestinian Authority notified Israel on Thursday that it would stop paying for the electricity Israel provides to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, effective immediately, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. This is the first major step by the PA as part of a shift in policy toward the Hamas government in Gaza and an effort by the PA to reassert its presence in the Strip. The government of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, lost control of the Gaza Strip to the Islamist Hamas movement in 2007 in pitch battles between the two sides.

Israel provides Gaza with electricity through ten transmission lines that carry 125 megawatts, Mordechai’s office said. This amounts to 30 percent of the power required by the Strip, at an estimated cost of 40 million shekels ($11 million) a month. Israel subtracts this amount from the taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Gaza has a daily electricity requirement of 400 megawatts.

The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said that the Palestinian Authority’s decision to stop paying for electricity would lead to a disaster in Gaza and have serious consequences on all aspects of life in the Strip. Palestinian sources in Gaza warned that the power crisis would also damage sewage pumps, leading to the flow of sewage in city streets.

On the medical front, it was reported that, beginning Sunday, only urgent surgery at Gaza's hospitals would be performed, that all non-urgent hospital admissions would be cancelled and a day-by-day assessment of the situation would be made.

Dr. Abdel Latif said cutting off electricity would make hospitals more dependent on generators powered by diesel fuel, which is expected to lead to diesel shortages as well. The generators, which had been installed to provide emergency electricity back-up, have become a main power source for these hospitals. The Indonesia hospital in the Jabalya refugee camp recently ran its generators for 18 hours straight.

The United Nations promised to help buy diesel fuel but this has not been confirmed yet, Abel Latif said. In any case, the promised amount would only suffice for two weeks. Mahmoud Daher, the World Health Organization representative in Gaza, confirmed these details to Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, which issued a statement claiming that Gaza is on the brink of a deterioration of the humanitarian crisis that has prevailed there for the past decade due to Israel’s blockade of the territory since Hamas took it over.

The government of Egypt, which also borders Gaza, has also severely limited the passage of people and goods in and out of the territory.

“In the absence of a regular supply of electricity, medical infrastructure will be harmed,” Physicians for Human Rights said, “and the civilian population will be at risk for contracting infectious diseases and of substantial harm to public health. Israel can no longer shake off its moral and legal responsibility for what is happening in Gaza, a responsibility which is based on international law. Its responsibility is not only to ensure basic living conditions but to mobilize massive rehabilitation of the Strip, ensuring its residents’ rights to remain healthy.”