Gaza nearing total blackout, Oxfam quote and Weekly Gaza Update

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"What we are witnessing now with the fuel crisis in Gaza proves that the tunnels are not a sustainable solution to the blockade. The government of Israel's near ban on fuel for private sale has only worsened this crisis and made everyday people less able to cope. If we want to solve the electricity crisis once and for all we need a full and consistent opening of all of Gaza's crossings in accordance with international law," said Catherine Essoyan, Regional Director of Oxfam.

Oxfam, OPTI

The Gaza Strip is inching towards a total collapse of essential services as fuel supplies from the tunnels beneath the border between Gaza and Egypt have reportedly ground to a halt.

With the blockaded enclave's only power plant shut down for long hours daily, the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza are being affected across the board, with impending life threatening consequences in health services.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza warned on 15 February that the health situation was reaching catastrophic proportions in hospitals, where fuel to run generators was running out. Reportedly 72% of emergency fuel stocks for all of Gaza's hospitals had already run out. More than 400 kidney dialysis patients were mentioned as the most at risk right now, given that their treatment requires machines that need to run on electricity for long hours.

The water and sanitation front is also facing widespread disasters, with high risk of sewage flooding in the streets and interrupted water supplies.

Oxfam partner Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) estimates that with only 80,000 lires of fuel remaining in its stock, it can only power its 180 generators for the next seven days. CMWU's facilities include 190 water wells, 40 main sewage pumping stations, 15 districts pump stations, four wastewater treatment plants, eight desalination units, and 10 water lifting stations.

CMWU warned on 15 February that the power cuts can result in more than a 50% drop in water supply to households with the possibility of creating a public health risk. Water from desalination units is facing a 60% drop while wastewater pumping stations face sewage overflows. In Gaza City, CMWU says that the one main station pumping up to 40% of all the city's wastewater is at risk of total collapse due to the power and fuel shortage.

The water and sanitation cluster in Gaza is also warning of the high risk of flooding and destruction of sewage lagoons which have already claimed lives of dozens of Palestinians drowning in them. The latest victim was 10-year-old Ahmed Al Zein who drowned in a sewage basin in Beit Lahia on 11 February. The Bedouin Village next to this basin was flooded in March 2007, killing five Palestinians and injuring another 20, damaging houses and public facilities. And last December, two siblings aged 5 and 2 drowned in a sewage basin near Khan Younis refugee camp.

Humanitarian and partner agencies agencies have also started feeling the impacts of the total blackout, with offices closing down early and reduced car movements.

Communications are so far the most immediately hit services – with very limited internet connectivity and heavy reliance on generators. Oxfam GB estimates that unless the fuel crisis is solved, it will be able to run its office and vehicles on its emergency fuel for just 10 days before it runs out of stock.

Oxfam staff in Gaza have witnessed car queuing late at night at petrol stations. Petrol prices have already gone up from 2 shekels per litre to 4.5 shekels.

Since Israel put Gaza under total blockade in 2007, only limited amounts of fuel for Gaza's power plants were allowed to enter the enclave, prompting the government in Gaza to procure fuel from Egypt through the Rafah tunnels.

The Egyptian press has reported a similar fuel crisis in the Southern Sinai as shipments of fuel have failed to reach the province. This has reportedly prompted Egyptian authorities to clamp down on fuel smuggling to Gaza in a bid to preserve the Sinai's fuel stocks.

Oxfam partners Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Mezan have both stressed the responsibility and obligations of Israel as the occupying power, to provide for the wellbeing of the civilian population under occupation, with international humanitarian law requiring it to allow the passage of fuel for the Gaza power plant. Israeli restrictions on fuel supplies via the overland crossings, imposed in 2007, caused massive shortages, leading the authority in Gaza to seek alternate solutions in fuel supplied through the tunnels.

"What we are witnessing now with the fuel crisis in Gaza proves that the tunnels are not a sustainable solution to the blockade. The government of Israel's near ban on fuel for private sale has only worsened this crisis and made everyday people less able to cope. If we want to solve the electricity crisis once and for all we need a full and consistent opening of all of Gaza's crossings in accordance with international law," said Catherine Essoyan, Regional Director of Oxfam.

With Gaza's crossings closed to the free flow of essential goods, Al Mezan and PCHR have also called on the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank to work together to find long-lasting solutions for the provision of fuel for Gaza's power plant. Under the blockade, the resumption of fuel transfers to Gaza's power plant via Israel would require both Palestinian authorities to coordinate its procurement, which itself has been a source of problems over the last year despite promises of political reconciliation.

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