Middle East
5:03 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Political Divisions Contribute To Limited Electricity In Gaza

Originally published on Sun December 8, 2013 8:18 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's turn now to the Middle East. In the Gaza Strip, it makes for good news that sewage is no longer flooding the streets. The sewage was one byproduct of an ongoing power shortage that seems to be easing, although just slightly. Hospitals and government offices should soon get electricity for more than the few hours a day, which has been the norm for weeks now.

NPR's Emily Harris reports that people expect, though, that they will still be cooking on open fires until Palestinian leaders mend a political split.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Right now in the Gaza Strip, the electricity works like this: Six hours on, 12 hours off. Egypt's current government shut down smuggling tunnels to Gaza this summer, ending access to affordable fuel for both the Gaza power plant and back up generators. During the day, the crisis seems relatively manageable.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN)

HARRIS: At Ali Ben Abi Taleb Elementary School in Gaza City, afternoon sun lights classrooms through windows on both sides. The walls are bare, but the students are focused. This school has run a line from a university next door to borrow a bit of power for the main office, when the university turns on its generator. But teachers say kids don't do their homework if they have no light at night. And as night falls, life feels very different here.

NAKHLA JAMAL GUZAT: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: Nakhla Jamal Guzat hands out a piece of pita bread and two take-out falafel balls to each of her 11 children, who still live at home. It's 5 pm, and dark outside. Two little boys play with a candle in the corner. Guzat says she schedules her life around whenever the power comes on. Sometimes that's two A.M.

GUZAT: (Through translator) I wake up whenever the electricity comes. We cook and wash clothes. But because of the constant reconnections, my washing machine burned out, and my freezer quit working. The TV got fried, and the shop couldn't fix it.

HARRIS: Next door, her neighbor rips up scrap cardboard to cook dinner over an open fire. At least, Guzat says, the sewage is gone. A sewage collection station nearby had backed up, because the pumps weren't working. Outside and inside, Guzat's house flooded.

GUZAT: (Through translator) For 10 days, it was torture. It destroyed the mattresses my kids were sleeping on. It went into the kitchen and ruined the flour. I didn't know what to do. Our situation with electricity is tragic.

HARRIS: Gaza authorities got some power to the pump by diverting lines from different areas. Now, Turkey has donated $800,000 worth of fuel for backup generators. United Nations spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna says the donation is enough to temporarily boost the power supply to hospitals and city water systems - a small relief for Gaza's 1.6 million people.

ADNAN ABU HASNA: We are not talking about children and homes. You know, the electrical problem in general is not solved.

HARRIS: That would take restarting Gaza's power plant. But getting that fuel has been subject to a political fight between Hamas - the Palestinian faction governing Gaza, which is close to broke - and the Palestinian Authority, or PA, which runs the West Bank and can buy fuel from Israel at cost, but adds taxes.

Gazan political analyst Mokhaimar Abu Seada.

MOKHAIMAR ABU SEADA: It's part of the mutual accusations, part of the political divide between West Bank and Gaza that Hamas doesn't want the PA to make money out of Gaza.

HARRIS: All the electricity on Gaza's grid right now is purchased from Israel. U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna says he sees frustration and anger building. He doesn't know when or how it might explode.

Emily Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.