BBC News

Gaza's infrastructure crippled by conflict

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Gaza

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe sole power plant in Gaza was badly damaged by Israeli shelling

Israel says it has targeted militant sites in its recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip but civilian infrastructure has not been spared.

At the end of last month, there was a huge fire at the only electricity plant after it was hit by Israeli shelling.

Its fire extinguishing systems were struck and then its fuel tanks were set ablaze.

The Israeli army says it is investigating what happened but the effects are clear.

"As you see, it's total damage. It's scrap," says the Gaza power plant general manager, Rafik Maliha, as he points to the huge crumpled metal vats in the fuel storage area.

"It can't be used and without the fuel, we have no operation."

Schools and hospitals

Mr Maliha worked on plans for the electricity plant before it opened a decade ago.

It was supposed to make use of the latest technology to meet rising demand and drive local business development.

Instead it has faced constant challenges.

Plans for the plant to run on Palestinian offshore gas were never implemented because political infighting stopped the resource from being developed.

Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 - a year after it won legislative elections - there have been three conflicts with its sworn enemy, Israel. Each time the electricity plant has been hit.

It only finished repairs to a transformer damaged in the first war just over a month ago.

Israel and Egypt impose tight border restrictions on Gaza - which they say are necessary for security. This has made bringing in parts and maintenance difficult. Fuel imports have also been limited.

Before the conflict, the plant met over a quarter of demand. Electricity in Gaza is supplemented by supplies bought from Israel and Egypt and although there were daily electricity power cuts before the latest fighting, now these are much longer.

"This will disturb electricity for the whole population of Gaza; almost two million people will suffer," says Mr Maliha.

"It's not just basic lighting that's affected. We're talking about water supply, the water treatment plant, the sewage plant, and we're talking about hospitals and schools."

Daily routine

At the Tantish family home in Beit Lahiya, everyone organises their lives around the limited electricity supply.

"We were down to two or three hours a week or so ago. Now we are getting at least six hours a day," says engineering student, Izzy.

image captionThe Tantish family have to prioritise their use of electricity while it lasts

"When the power comes our first thing of course is charging our flashlights, turning on our water well and doing laundry."

Even keeping clean is difficult in the sweltering summer temperatures. Without power, the water filters and pumps do not work.

"We wish we could all take a shower in some nice water but we can't," says Izzy's sister, Yasmine. "There's not enough water or electricity."

Most of Gaza's water is brackish and must be filtered through electric pumps to make it drinkable.

Underground water and sewage systems were already fragile before the latest conflict. But they have been badly damaged by Israel's military offensive that began on 8 July to try to stop militants firing rockets into its territory.

An upsurge in rocket-fire followed an Israeli clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank after the murders of three Israeli teenagers which Israel blamed on the group.

Palestinian anger also soared after a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem was killed in an apparent revenge attack by Jewish extremists.

Health risk

The local water authority says it is now providing 50% less water, and there are concerns about contamination.

"During the ceasefire period it's been our priority to reach the damaged pipelines and stop the sewage floods," says Monzer Shoblok, head of the water board.

"At this point we are not concentrating on making water drinkable but making it hygienic."

image captionDamaged pipes have left pools of raw sewage in the streets

Municipal workers are involved in a big clean-up in Shejaiya, a large residential neighbourhood that was largely flattened during Israel's ground operation when it said it was targeting militants' tunnels.

A pool of stinking sewage has collected alongside broken water pipes that are now being replaced.

Doctors say they are already seeing diseases spreading.

At the Shifa Hospital, the growing problems with Gaza's infrastructure can be a matter of life and death.

The life-support machines in the intensive care unit (ICU) now rely full-time on generators that are meant to be used for back-up purposes.

"So imagine if the electricity of the generator came off in addition to the normal electricity that was off before," says Dr Nasr al-Tatar, director of Shifa Medical Complex.

"What will happen to the blood banks? What will happen to the patients in the ICU? What will happen to the nursery where the newborns are?"

For years, Gaza has struggled but the latest conflict has left it in a critical condition.

Now, the main hope for the future is a long-term ceasefire deal that can address Israeli security concerns and also open up Gaza's borders so that a full recovery - and full reconstruction - can take place.

Related Topics

  • Gaza