Gaza crippled by electricity crisis as power plant runs out of fuel

Gazans walk along a darkened street during a power outage on April 14.

Story highlights

  • Gaza power cuts prompted wide-scale protests in January
  • Palestinian Authority and Hamas blame each other for energy crisis

(CNN)Gaza's only power plant has run out of fuel, leaving 2 million residents of the coastal enclave with only four hours of electricity a day in what the UN cautions could be the tipping point to making Gaza "unlivable."

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza blame each other for the energy shortage.
The power generating authority in Gaza says it cannot afford to buy more fuel for the plant -- mostly because of taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority claims that the Hamas officials in Gaza are simply incapable of running the plant efficiently.
In January, as wide-scale protests erupted in Gaza sparked by the lack of electricity, Qatar and Turkey agreed to provide a 3-month supply of fuel for the power plant, enough for 6-12 hours of electricity a day.
That supply was exhausted on Sunday, forcing Gazans to prepare for a life with even less electricity. Gaza will only have access to electricity imported from Israel and Egypt, which meets less than a third of demand.
The Gaza Ministry of Health on Monday warned of a health crisis and the possibility of delayed or canceled surgeries if the disagreement isn't resolved within 48 hours.
"If, in two days from today, the issue will not be solved, then we will have to cancel between 200-250 surgeries a day," Dr. Ashraf Al Qedra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said.
"All will be affected by the electricity cut."

Lives 'start when the electricity comes on'

Customers visit a food stand in Gaza during an April 14 blackout.
"It totally changed our daily lives into focusing only on when we have electricity," said Nivin Abu Marahil, 35, from central Gaza. "We have changed three refrigerator and four washing machines (in 10 years), as they get damaged each time the electricity goes off and on.
"We stopped buying food that we should store in a fridge. We buy every day what we need to cook on that day. Our lives start when the electricity is on, no matter if it does at night or during the day."
At a news conference held Monday, Gaza power authority Deputy Chairman Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil accused the Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah of attempting to "ignite an electricity crisis in Gaza."
Khalil said fuel taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority more than double the cost of fuel and make it impossible to operate the plant consistently.
"We demand that everyone press the government of Hamdallah to stop the taxation of fuel stations so we can buy and operate the power plant," Khalil said.

UN: Gaza approaching 'tipping point'

Fuad Al-Shobaki, the director-general of the Palestinian Authority's Petroleum Authority in the West Bank, blamed Hamas for manufacturing a crisis, saying in a statement released last week that there was no electricity shortage in Gaza before Hamas took over more than 10 years ago. He said Hamas was unable "to cover their inability to manage the Gaza Strip."
The fuel shortage is one more problem for Hamas-controlled Gaza, which is already dealing with soaring unemployment and a lack of drinkable water.
Robert Piper, the UN deputy special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told The Jerusalem Post: "The UN has been warning for some years that the chronic problems of Gaza are accumulating to the extent that we may be approaching a tipping point at which Gaza becomes unlivable."
Gaza also has to contend with an Israeli land and sea blockade and restrictions on movements of goods and people, which Piper said is the primary cause of Gaza's problems, making a viable economy in Gaza impossible. The border with Egypt is also closed most of the time, opening only rarely for short periods.

A deepening rift

Gaza's only power plant has run out of fuel.
The dispute over fuel is the latest flare-up in a long-running feud between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas, a militant Islamist group which ousted Fatah when it took over Gaza in 2007. Last week, the Palestinian Authority cut the salaries of Fatah employees in Gaza in an attempt to put economic pressure on Hamas.
The decision was met with protests in Gaza, even by Fatah members, who were angry about the timing of the cuts. Mohammad, a Palestinian Authority employee in Gaza who did not want CNN to use his last name for safety reasons, said his salary was cut from approximately $1,000 a month to $700.
"I would happily have accepted this decision if it was in favor of bringing people together and reconciliation," Mohammad said, "but I know it will bring us a worse life than what we have now. People in the street see this step as the drums of war."
Last week, Prime Minister Hamdallah demanded that Hamas cede power to the Palestinian Authority, according to WAFA, the Palestinian Authority news agency.
Hamdallah said the salaries would be reimbursed once Hamas accepts Palestinian Authority governance. A Fatah delegation will head to Gaza next week to attempt to advance reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza, seen as a necessary step for aspirations of a Palestinian state.