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Gaza Power Plant Forced to Shut Down

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) expresses grave concern over the ongoing deterioration of the humanitarian conditions of the civilian population due to widespread electricity blackouts. The operation of Gaza Power Plant has been stopped since 10 April because the industrial fuel required to operate the Plant ran out. PCHR is concerned that the current crisis may impact the population's access to vital services, including water supplies, and that this crisis may result in the suspension of work in some vital sectors such as health, sanitation and education. It should be noted that exams in Gaza schools and universities are very close and electricity blackouts will affect students' preparations.

The operation of Gaza Power Production Plant was totally stopped yesterday, Saturday, 10 April 2010. Engineer Cana’an ‘Obeid, Vice President of the Power Authority in Gaza, announced that the operation of the four turbines in the Plant was totally stopped due to the lack of industrial fuel. ‘Obeid added that the new crisis increased electrical shortage to 50% because the government in Ramallah stopped transferring payments for the bill of the industrial fuel required to operate the Plant. However, Dr. Ghassan al-Khatib, spokesman of the government in Ramallah, announced that Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) does not pay its share of the cost of the fuel required to operate Gaza Power Production Plant. Al-Khatib added that the government in Ramallah has been committed to paying two-thirds of the required industrial fuel since last November, and that he expected that GEDCO would transfer the values of bills it collects to contribute to the cost of the industrial fuel. Al-Khatib further noted that GEDCO collects limited amounts from power consumers because of the weak support provided to GEDCO by official bodies in Gaza.
It should be noted that on 20 November 2009, the European Union (EU) decided to suspend its direct funds allocated to cover the cost of approximately 2,200 cubes of industrial fuel weekly. The EU transferred these funds to the budget of the Palestinian Authority which explicitly pledged, through the Power Authority, to pay the cost of the industrial fuel required to operate Gaza Power Production Plant. The Power Authority covered the cost of the industrial fuel through the Ministry of Finance in Ramallah from 20 November 2009 to 31 December 2009, and paid approximately 70 million NIS. In January, however, the Power  Authority announced that it was unable to cover the bill of the industrial fuel required to operate Gaza Power Production Plant. It covered the cost of 6.5 million liters (74%) out of the 8.8 million liters of the industrial fuel allowed into the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation authorities.
GEDCO is suffering increasing financial deficit because 60% of power consumers in the Gaza Strip do not pay their power bills, inflicting heavy annual losses on GEDCO. Power consumers in Gaza owe approximately 2.7 billion NIS to GEDCO, increasing the Company’s inability to pay, through the Power Authority, the cost of the power produced by Gaza Power Production Plant. Thousands of power consumers, including thousands of social figures, politicians, businessmen, traders and employees of governmental and non-governmental institutions, refrain from paying their power bills although they have the ability to pay. They believed that the EU was funding the industrial fuel required for the Power Production plant, and thus they were encouraged to avoid paying their power bills.
The five governorates of the Gaza Strip have been impacted by this new crisis and the civilian population has endured additional suffering due to the repeated electrical outages. Civilians expressed their serious displeasure at becoming the victims of the political conflict between the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah. They are particularly displeased because this crisis coincides with preparations for the final exams of different educational stages. Dozens of civilians reported that many of their electrical devices were disrupted because of the high voltage that is supplied when the electrical power returns. The new developments of the electrical crisis have resulted in the outage of the electrical power in large areas in the Gaza Strip. Power is provided for eight hours and then cut off for another eight hours every day. This power reduction is expected to increase. There are concerns that the suffering of the civilian population may increase and their access to basic services, including health services, education, water, sanitation services and other major services, may be affected.
PCHR expresses its extreme concern over the catastrophic impacts that may result from the shutdown of facilities that provide basic services to Gaza population as a result of the electrical outages, which affect the daily public services provided to the civilian population, especially in hospitals and water and sanitation facilities. In light of the above, PCHR calls upon:
• The Power Authority and the two governments in Ramallah and Gaza to find immediate and prompt solutions to ensure the flow of industrial fuel to Gaza Power Production Plant and to put an end to the ongoing crisis in order to reduce the electrical shortages and end the suffering of the population resulting from the ongoing political conflict.
• GEDCO to publish the names of social figures, politicians, businessmen, traders and employees of governmental and non-governmental institutions who owe large sums of money to GEDCO, and who have the ability to repay their debts. This will be a major means of pressure exerted on those who do not repay debts owed by them to GEDCO. It can also be a part of strategic solutions for the ongoing crisis regardless of the availability of external funds.
• The Government in Gaza to coordinate with GEDCO to collect the debts from those who are able to repay their debts. This will increase GEDCO’s ability to collect debts and contribute to covering the costs of the industrial fuel required to operate Gaza Power Production Plant.
PCHR notes that failure of authorities responsible for this crisis should not impact people who are committed to the payment of their monthly power bills.  Thus, these authorities must supply power to these civilians under all circumstances. PCHR also recognizes that the comprehensive illegal closure that has been imposed by the occupation for approximately three years has aggravated the economic conditions of thousands of families and has limited their ability to ensure their basic needs, including the payment of power bills. This requires reconsideration of mechanisms of aid provided to these families, and finding a mechanism for concerned authorities and parties to cooperate in order to help these families to pay their power bills.

(The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights)