LPHR remain extremely concerned at the ongoing suffering which the two million residents of Gaza are experiencing due to shortages of electricity. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has just revealed that in both April and May 2018, the Gaza Strip received on average only 4 hours of electricity per day.
Its May 2018 Early Warning Indicators bulletin further shows that between May 2017-May 2018, residents of Gaza have not received more than an average of 6 hours of electricity per day. UNOCHA concludes that the Gaza Strip faces an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis”.
A year ago, in June 2017, the Israeli government reduced its electricity supply to Gaza by 40 per cent to 70 MW (down from 120MW), following a request from the Palestinian Authority. LPHR published a legal Q&A outlining the cause of the electricity crisis, in which we expressed concern at the violations of international law being committed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority due to their respective punitive actions. At the time our legal Q&A was published in September 2017, residents of Gaza had been receiving only 2-4 hours of electricity per day during the stifling summer months. We followed this publication with an urgent action letter to the UK Government (more on this below).
Developments in 2018
In January 2018, the Palestinian Authority announced that it would allow Israel to resume supplying the 50 megawatts of power that they had previously requested be stopped. The Israeli government subsequently stated its agreement to resume the pre-June 2017 provision. This followed a reconciliation agreement that was reached between Hamas and Fatah, in October 2017, whereby Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza.
It was widely thought that the October 2017 reconciliation agreement would bring about an end to the withholding of electricity supply, that had been punitively been used as leverage by the Palestinian Authority over Hamas during the negotiations. However, as we reported in a January blog, a number of factors meant the electricity crisis would unlikely be abated, which has since been borne out by the figures in UNOCHA’s May 2018 bulletin.
Significantly, on 5 June, the sole power plant in Gaza shut down its only operating turbine due to lack of fuel. The power plant had not been functioning because of unsolved disputes between the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank over funding and taxation of the fuel. This power plant is responsible for producing up to 60MW of power to Gaza per day.
This development, alongside the empirical evidence that in recent months Gaza has continued to face severe power shortages, again emphasises a clear need for intensive action by all relevant parties and the wider international community to reverse the ever-worsening living situation for the population of Gaza.
The humanitarian impact of the ongoing electricity crisis
The electricity crisis feeds into every aspect of daily life for the residents of Gaza, including water sanitation, healthcare equipment and household appliances. 97 per cent of the water in Gaza is unfit to drink. The UNOCHA May 2018 bulletin highlights that the situation that Gaza is facing has been partly driven by over 11 years of a closure which has seen an extreme stifling of development and regeneration as a result.
The current crisis has also been exacerbated in recent months by the huge number of Palestinian casualties that have arisen during mass demonstrations in Gaza. The high number of casualties, coupled with pressures on already under-resourced healthcare facilities, mean that residents of Gaza are especially vulnerable during this period.
With the summer months approaching again, Gaza will be facing similar problems as it was last year when the punitive decisions were made by the Palestinian Authority and Israel to cut an already limited electricity supply. Household appliances such as fridges and fans will not be able to operate for the most of the day, creating unbearable living situations for the population of Gaza, of which approximately 1 million are children.
The UK government’s response
In October 2017, LPHR submitted an urgent letter to the UK government, requesting that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office intervene and make representations to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to immediately rescind their decisions to reduce electricity supply to Gaza in violation of international law obligations. The response provided by Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East, said “we [the UK Government] stress to the Israeli authorities the damage that their restrictions are doing to the living standards of ordinary Palestinians’. However, it omitted to comment on our legal assessment of the actions of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, nor on whether it would urge both parties to reverse their respective decisions to reduce electricity supply to Gaza.
In light of the latest figures presented by UNOCHA’s May 2018 bulletin, LPHR will continue to call on the UK government to work intensively to urge Israel – as the occupying power – and the Palestinian Authority to ensure provision of more electricity to meet the basic living needs of the 2 million residents of Gaza in accordance with relevant international humanitarian and human rights law obligations.
Angelina Nicolaou, Tareq Shrourou