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Humanitarian disaster looming in Gaza amid gripping fuel crisis

Humanitarian disaster looming in Gaza amid gripping fuel crisis
20-07-2013,00:49

By: Abdulrahman Murad

The Gaza Strip is living a nightmare about a life-sapping blockade looming, with Egypt’s army having or destroyed or shut hundreds of underground border tunnels with Gaza, the lifeline for the Gazans after Hamas won 2006 elections, and the following Israeli border blockade.

The unraveling question haunting Gazans’ minds is whether Egypt’s political unrest would continue to affect their access to life basics, particularly fuel, which no longer could reach the Gaza tunnels. 

Fuel shortages have seen Gaza environment, health, and transport sectors remarkably crippled, worsening the humanitarian situation in the coastal enclave.

The vast majority of Gaza’s 1.7 million used to opt for the cheaper Egyptian fuel. However, head of the government’s petroleum directorate Abdul Nasser Muahnna said last week “Gaza’s gas station syndicate which had reduced its dependency on Israeli supplies of fuel in the past, has now asked Israel for fuel provisions to head off the shortage,”

Threatened Environment

Water crisis in Gaza is not the product of the day; a UN report issued in August 2012 warned that the Gaza strip faces a water crisis that will soon make it "unliveable”. The report indicated that "the decades of overpumping and heavy pollution from salts and wastewater has left the aquifer highly degraded and in danger of irreparable damage."

Gaza municipal councils announced a few days ago that the continued fuel crisis would affect vital sectors and subsequently cause an imminent humanitarian disaster.

Spokesman of the councils said that “since the power generators running the Gaza’s 57 sewage pumps highly depend on diesel fuel, it would not be working as far as the fuel crisis didn’t defuse,”

“The areas surrounding these stations would be significantly affected,” he confirmed, adding that “the councils are now pumping considerable quantities of untreated wastewater into sea because of the scarcity of diesel fuel.”

Moreover, water wells which amount to 190 and constitute Gazans’ main source of water for drinking, agricultural and domestic use basically depend on diesel-powered generators.

While solid waste collection services have also disrupted due to the flaring fuel problem. Head of Gaza Municipality’s Health and Environment Department Abdel Rahim Abu Qumbuz said that “50% of solid waste collection vehicles that transport more than 1,500 tons of waste daily from the neighborhoods and streets of the Gaza Strip to landfills have suspended work.

“The accumulated thousands of tons of harmful waste shall ensure spread of many infectious diseases provoked by rodents and flies,” he followed.

Minister of Local Government Mohammed al-Farra warned Thursday that an environmental disaster may surface in the near future as United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has recently stopped to sponsor Gaza municipal councils with diesel for waste collection vehicles.

Alongside the diesel fuel crisis that faced by the ministry, what is aggravating the problem, Al-Farra added, is that the International donors reneged on its commitment to supporting the hygiene sector, and halted its support for the drivers and street cleaners,.

“As an alternative to the diesel-powered vehicles, we’re seeking to recruit 1,000 cleaners provided that 50% of them have four-wheeled carts, in order that municipalities continue to work in raising the level of cleanliness in the Gaza Strip.

Crippled Health Services

The health sector has been squarely affected by the fuel crisis. Ministry of Health warned against the acute shortage in the quantities of fuel to run the power generators supplying hospitals, blood banks, medical centers, public health laboratories in the Gaza Strip.

Spokesman of the ministry Ashraf al-Qidra said that “the overall health services are directly harmed by the current crisis; the public hospitals, medical clinics, laboratories and blood banks need a monthly amount of nearly 10,000 liters of diesel to run, a monthly of 150,000 liters of gasoline to run transport vehicles, ambulances,”

“When the crisis emerged, the ministry has been consuming the emergency reserves of fuel with a capacity of half a million liters of fuel, of which only 20% is left,” He explained.

Al-Qidra pointed out that “the ministry has designed a plan to rationalize the daily consumption of fuel to be at the lowest level, so that power generators could to work for a longer period,”

“We have rescheduled the movement of ambulances and transport services in general to be at the minimum and work only during emergencies; we are afraid of the consequences on the Palestinian patients if the crisis continued to exist, as there is 579 patients, including 15 children, with renal failure who undergo 1,800 dialysis sessions per week, 110 infants lying in incubators,” the official said.

Disabled Public Transport

Ministry of Transport and Communications said Tuesday “in light of the inaccessibility of petroleum products to the Gaza Strip through the border tunnels, more than 70,000 taxi drivers have been jobless,”

Spokesman of the ministry Khalil Zayan said at a press conference held Thursday in Gaza that “about 20,000 public service vehicles, and 30,000 private vehicles have been disrupted,”

“Many of ministry’s vehicles stopped working completely, due to the inability to transport goods and materials to the market.” he indicated.

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