Immediate action needed as Gaza power cuts spark humanitarian crisis, UN expert warns

Geneva/ PNN/

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating to unprecedented levels as new reductions in the already extremely limited power supply have been announced, a United Nations expert has warned.

Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said the situation was “extremely distressing” and getting worse with every passing week.

“All the parties with a direct hand in the crisis – Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – must act immediately with the best interests of the population in Gaza in mind to resolve this human-made problem,” the expert said.

“I call on them to put aside their differences, live up to their legal and political obligations, and to ensure that electricity needs are fully met, with immediate critical infrastructure requirements addressed,” he said. “This unprecedented reduction of power is increasing the already intolerable levels of misery being endured by Gazans, particularly for the poor and vulnerable.”

The power plant, which provides 30% of Gaza’s electricity, has been inoperative since mid-April, partly because of a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over the payment of fuel taxes. Some extra power has been provided by Egypt and Israel, but Mr. Lynk said this was extremely limited, either because of insufficient infrastructure or for political reasons.

He also noted that the plant was badly damaged by Israeli military action in 2014, and that Israel had restricted the importation of replacement parts.

“This entirely avoidable power crisis has had significant repercussions for people living in Gaza,” said the Special Rapporteur.

“The health sector is able to provide only the absolute minimum standard of care – hospitals are being forced to cancel some operations, are cutting back on maintenance, and are dependent on the United Nations for emergency fuel to run their generators,” Mr. Lynk said.

“Raw sewage cannot be treated and is pouring into the Mediterranean. Desalination plants are functioning at one-seventh of their capacity, and drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce,” he stressed.

The Special Rapporteur warned almost every aspect of daily life was now being affected.

“For the vast majority of Gazans, the power crisis intensifies the already serious humanitarian crisis,” he said. “There is a severe impact on sanitation, food preservation, cooking, and the use of computers and telephones.

“The cost of food is dramatically rising. Irrigation for farming is restricted. Manufacturing companies are closing or reducing their production hours. Unemployment – already the highest in the world at 40% – is increasing.”

Mr. Lynk said the problems were compounding the already-degraded living conditions in the territory.

“Even before these current hardships, Gaza has endured a decade-long blockade and closure imposed by Israel, with the economy collapsing and poverty and unemployment rates soaring,” he said. “This new energy crisis has made a very bad situation much worse.”

Beyond resolving the immediate power supply crisis, Mr. Lynk also called for an end to Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza, with security guarantees for both Israelis and Palestinians.

“Keeping Gaza economically crippled and socially isolated is a recipe for humanitarian distress and another conflict in the near future,” he said. “The rights of all people to freedom and security must be respected in order to achieve peace.”