- Published on Friday, 15 June 2012 08:50
By Talgha Bendie
The Center for Political and Development Studies, Gaza
When I first arrived in Gaza two months ago, it was almost in complete darkness. The streets were kept alight solely by the headlights of cars passing by. Motor vehicles were lined up bumper to bumper at gas stations waiting for a chance to purchase fuel. Many sectors suffer in Gaza due to the Israeli siege, which has been held for more than five years.
One of the main issues affecting the way people live in Gaza is the shortage of electricity. The electricity crisis in Gaza took a turn for the worst when a fall in supplies of fuel smuggled in from Egypt, forced the closure of the coastal strips' only power plant, causing power cuts of up to 18 hours a day. Many people try to adapt their lives according to when they have access to electricity. Students studying for exams will often sleep when the power is off and wake up to use the electricity to study- regardless what time it is. They go to school or university having stayed up until the early hours of the morning just to complete homework or to study for tests and exams.
The alternative for some students is a trip back into the "dark ages" by studying or completing work by candle light (High school students sat their first exam on the 9th of June). Having no electricity means not only cold showers in the morning but also no internet and no power to charge gadgets such as cell phones and laptops which are used for work purposes.
Hospitals and shopkeepers also face similar challenges. If the area's power is switched off, they have run generators which are powered by benzene. This means extra costs, inconvenience and loss of time for employees who use a lot of their spare time standing in long ques to buy benzene and service generators etc. Hospitals are often left in the dark at crucial times and when patients need life saving medical equipment which can only work with an efficient power supply.
Having no power also means no electricity for families to cook basic meals or do household chores such as washing and ironing. Many families and businesses stock up on extra gas which is used to cook their meals when the electricity is off. The price of gas is not cheap. It can vary from about fifty to seventy New Israeli Shekels (NIS) (13.15 to 18 42 US dollars) for one twenty-five litre gas cylinder. Add the costs of the monthly electricity bill, generator costs and gas and you could easily get a bill which is more expensive than some first and second world countries.
If Gaza can get the amount of fuel needed to run the strip's sole power plant efficiently, this will certainly improve the quality of life in Gaza. The recent arrival of 30 million litres of Qatari fuel to the Gaza Strip may bring a temporary and needed "fix" to the Gaza energy crisis, but certainly not a permanent one.
The international community and people who stand in solidarity with Palestine can play a big and important role in this regard. Pressure has to be mounted and maintained on Israel until the siege is lifted so that Gaza will have enough fuel to run their power station.