In December 2016, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) launched its Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017. Since then, the situation in the Gaza Strip has significantly worsened, due to a dramatic deterioration in the energy situation and other developments related to internal Palestinian dynamics, affecting the entire population of two million people. In response, the HCT, including UNRWA, has identified the following top priority, life-saving interventions needed in the Health, WASH and Food Security sectors to address the most acute humanitarian needs today. Many of these interventions were previously included in the 2017 HRP but remain unfunded despite the added urgency. Other interventions are new interventions that will now be added to the HRP to address the changing humanitarian context. These prioritized funding requirements amount to US $25.2 million.1 Failure to respond to these needs will exacerbate human suffering and increase the risk of a new round of violence.
DETERIORATING HUMANITARIAN CONTEXT: 2017 DEVELOPMENTS
In the 10 years since the violent take-over of Gaza by Hamas, the enforcement of a blockade on Gaza by Israel and the administrative division that ensued within the Palestinian Authority, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has become increasingly fragile. The situation, has deteriorated further-still in recent months following an escalation of the conflict between the Hamas de facto authorities and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).
At the heart of this deterioration is an aggravation of Gaza’s longstanding electricity crisis. In mid-April 2017, Gaza’s sole power plant (the ‘GPP’), which provided about a third of Gaza’s electricity, was forced to shut down following the failure by the two parties to resolve a dispute over the payment of taxes on fuel. In May, the Palestinian Authority informed the Israeli Electricity Company (IEC) it will no longer fully pay for the electricity supplied to Gaza through Israel and requested that supply be reduced by 30 per cent.
One month later, the IEC implemented the decision in stages, with the first on 19 June. As the supply was gradually reduced, almost concurrently, on 22 June, Hamas and the Egyptian authorities reached an arrangement to import fuel from Egypt, allowing the GPP to resume partial operation.
However, the amount of energy produced by the GPP with the fuel purchased in the Egyptian market, is only enough to counteract the reduction in Israeli supply and does not result in an overall gain in energy supply. As such, Gaza is currently being supplied with only about 4-6 hours of electricity a day, down from 8-12 hours before April.
The longer blackouts are having a pervasive impact on all aspects of life, undermining basic services and generating serious public health concerns. Hospitals are postponing elective surgeries, discharging patients prematurely, and reducing cleaning and sterilizing of medical facilities. Water supply through the network reaches most homes for just a few hours every 3-5 days, and desalination plants are functioning at only 15 per cent of their capacity. More than 108 million litres of untreated sewage are being discharged into the Mediterranean every day, while wastewater pumping stations are at constant risk of overflow.
Despite the longer power shortages, 189 critical facilities providing health, water and sanitation, and solid waste collection services are able to maintain a minimum level of operation, with emergency fuel provided by humanitarian agencies to run backup generators and vehicles. However, even this current minimal level of service provision is at risk due to the shortage of funds to maintain emergency fuel deliveries beyond August 2017.
The exhaustion of emergency fuel could occur even earlier if electricity supply declines further. This may happen as a result of a new shutdown of the GPP, which depends on an uncertain arrangement for the supply of fuel, or as a result of an additional reduction in the PA’s funding for the electricity supplied by Israel.
The provision of health services is also challenged by additional factors. Delays in the shipment of essential drugs and disposables from the West Bank by the PA’s Ministry of Health (MoH), has resulted in some 37% per cent of essential pharmaceuticals and 32% of medical supplies being at zero stock at Gaza’s Central Drug Store. The MoH appears to have also recently been delaying or suspending the payment for the referral of patients to medical treatment outside Gaza, as reported by the World Health Organization, with about 1,600 patients currently on a waiting-list at the time this document went to print. This may be resulting in higher mortality rates among waiting patients, including highly vulnerable neonates.
The escalation in this internal Palestinian divide is also being felt more widely in the fragile economy of Gaza, affecting the livelihoods of many. Power shortages have undermined economic activity, particularly in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors, compounding the impact of an ongoing salary crisis in the public sector. Since March 2017, the PA has cut the salaries of some 62,000 public employees in Gaza by 30-50 per cent while about 22,000 employees recruited by the Hamas authorities receive typically less than half of their salaries, and on an irregular basis. In addition to the direct impact on affected staff and their families, some of whom may risk becoming food insecure, the salary crisis will ultimately be felt more broadly in Gaza’s restricted economy, as a result of an expected fall in consumption levels.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.