Midnight rush for power in electricity-starved Gaza
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Midnight rush for power in electricity-starved Gaza

Residents of Hamas-controlled enclave forced to cook, do laundry, recharge phones and computers with only 3-4 hours of power a day

A Palestinian woman ironing clothes during the few hours of electricity supply that Gaza receives each day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, July 31, 2017. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)
A Palestinian woman ironing clothes during the few hours of electricity supply that Gaza receives each day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, July 31, 2017. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

GAZA CITY (AFP) Once a day, the electricity comes on and the Ahmed household whirs into action — even if it’s the middle of the night.

Niveen starts the washing machine, her youngest son plugs in all the phones and computers to charge, her daughter runs to switch on the water heater, and her other son rushes to get his fix of television.

Such is life in the Gaza Strip, where residents have been receiving only three or four hours of household electricity a day.

The power can come on in the heat of the day or in the middle of the night, but whenever it does, people rush to get things done.

“Tonight the electricity came at 10 p.m. In a few days it will move to after midnight,” Niveen, 39, told AFP. “It’s no longer tolerable.”

This photo taken on July 12, 2017 shows a Palestinian man preparing bread as his wife washes clothes during the few hours of electricity they receive every day, at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
This photo taken on July 12, 2017 shows a Palestinian man preparing bread as his wife washes clothes during the few hours of electricity they receive every day, at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Over the past three months, the already energy-sparse coastal enclave has seen its electricity crisis worsen.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, will see the crisis for himself when he travels to Gaza on Wednesday.

A long-running feud between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Hamas terror group that runs the Gaza Strip, has led to further cuts in electricity supplies.

More than two million Gazans, already dealing with an Israeli blockade and a mostly closed border with Egypt, have to get by on three or four hours of power a day, in shifting and erratic cycles.

This photo taken on August 3, 2017 shows a Palestinian woman preparing bread during the few hours of mains electricity supply they receive every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
This photo taken on August 3, 2017 shows a Palestinian woman preparing bread during the few hours of mains electricity supply they receive every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Umm Adel Zahour, 57, lives with her husband and eight children in the narrow alleys of Gaza City’s impoverished Shati refugee camp.

When power comes, no matter what time, she and her husband rush to bake bread with an electric oven.

“I used to make 200 loaves to cover the family for days, but now I can only do around 30,” she told AFP. “There is no power to keep the bread cold.”

Her husband recalls a worker who agreed to work flat-out to fix some bathroom tiles while the power was on, despite searing heat.

“He tried to use every minute of it. We are trying to take advantage of every minute,” he said.

‘Depends on electricity’

The crisis has both long and short term causes.

Israel has imposed its blockade on Gaza for a decade, arguing it needs to prevent Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, from acquiring weapons or equipment to dig terror attack tunnels.

Israeli restrictions on imports of certain materials and equipment, as well as the blockade’s economic impact, have dramatically cut Gaza’s capacity to generate power, rights groups say.

This photo taken on July 23, 2017 shows a Palestinian woman washing clothes during the few hours of mains electricity supply her house receives every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
This photo taken on July 23, 2017 shows a Palestinian woman washing clothes during the few hours of mains electricity supply her house receives every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

On top of that, key infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power station, has been severely damaged as a result of those conflicts.

In recent months, Abbas, based in the West Bank, has also sought to squeeze Gaza in order to isolate longtime rival party Hamas.

Abbas has reduced the amount of electricity the Palestinian Authority pays Israel to deliver to Gaza, pushing already limited electricity supplies to as little as two hours a day.

Despite Egypt in July beginning to import fuel into Gaza to help supply the Strip’s sole power station, the shortages remain severe.

While richer Gazans pay for private generators, many cannot afford to do so.

This photo taken on July 23, 2017 shows Palestinian boys playing on a laptop during the few hours of mains electricity supply their house receives every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
This photo taken on July 23, 2017 shows Palestinian boys playing on a laptop during the few hours of mains electricity supply their house receives every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Gaza has 45 percent unemployment and more than two-thirds of the population rely on humanitarian aid.

Mahmoud al-Balawi, who owns a launderette west of Gaza City, has long given up the idea of choosing when he works.

On one recent morning, he arrived at work at 3 a.m., as that was when the power was due to come on.

“I have a lot of clothes for my customers. I want to protect my livelihood but it depends on electricity,” he said.

“Last Friday I was with my family far away but my neighbors called to tell me the power had come at an unexpected time. I left them and went to the shop.”

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 24, 2017 shows a Palestinian tailor using a sewing machine while an assistant irons a shirt during the few hours of mains electricity supply the residents of the Gaza Strip receive every day, in Gaza City. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS
(FILES) This file photo taken on July 24, 2017 shows a Palestinian tailor using a sewing machine while an assistant irons a shirt during the few hours of mains electricity supply the residents of the Gaza Strip receive every day, in Gaza City. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS

Balawi’s company sometimes pays to run a private generator but that entails huge extra expenses.

“It’s a cost that needs to be borne by my customers but most of them won’t accept it,” he said.

Abdullah Zaqout, also from the Shati refugee camp, has to pay for electricity to look after his sick 67-year-old father, who suffers from severe asthma.

The family need constant electricity to run his nebulizer, a kind of inhaler he uses to take his medicine.

“He needs treatment every two hours. I had to invest in a private generator.”

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