By Eva Bartlett
DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip, Aug 22, 2010 (IPS) – “It’s been days without electricity and water. We can’t do anything, and it’s unbearably hot now.” Abu Fouad, 83, speaks of the power cuts plaguing all of the Gaza Strip.
While Palestinians in Gaza have grown accustomed to power outages, a combined result of the destroyed power plant, bombed by Israeli in 2006, and the siege imposed by Israel and the international community, the blackouts have increased in frequency and duration.
For years, Palestinians in Gaza have been subject to power outages, ranging from six hours to 14 hours a day. More recently, the blackouts last entire days.
The main reason is a reported lack of fuel for the plant, fuel which since November 2009 the Palestinian Authority has been responsible for buying and transferring to Gaza.
Making matters worse, Gaza is experiencing a wave of intolerable heat and humidity. Temperatures have soared to between 35-40 degrees Celcius, with humidity up to 65 percent.
Umm Fouad is 64, has had 15 children, and has a consequently fatigued body. With her poor health, she is constantly tired on a good day.
“It’s so hot. All day long I can’t breathe, and I’m exhausted. There’s no relief. Even when there is electricity, the ceiling fan just pushes the hot air around. But now without electricity for so long, everything is even hotter and harder.”
Ramadan, a month of fasting, is also a time of joy for Muslims. Yet this is one of the hardest Ramadans Abu Fouad’s family has faced.
Aside from the dangerously high heat and humidity, there are practical concerns. “We can’t make bread, there’s no electricity for the hotplate, and we don’t have cooking gas,” says Umm Fouad.
“It’s been three days we haven’t had water,” says Abu Jaber, 45, one of Abu Fouad’s many sons. His apartment is on the third floor of the simple concrete house, and during the summer month heats up until it is unbearable to be indoors.
“There are 53 people living in this house. Our six apartments each need around 1,500 litres of water per day, for cooking, laundry, cleaning, bathing…and that’s excluding drinking water.”
Like other homes in the neighbourhood, the house is not connected to town water lines. Instead, when town water runs to a public line 150 metres from the home, Abu Fouad hooks up a hose and through a series of pumps, sends it up to the roof storage containers. “We need five pumps to bring the water from town connection to the roof of our house,” explains Abu Jaber.
Throughout the Strip, water lines are affected by the lack of electricity, meaning entire areas are cut off from running water for as long as the blackouts last.
A Gaza-wide lack of water compounds the problem. The United Nations notes that 43 percent of water in the networks is lost to leakages that result from a need to rehabilitate the water networks. But under siege, bringing the basic piping and materials needed for this project is impossible.
“Now that the power outages last for days at a time, my father isn’t able to bring the water our family needs,” says Abu Jaber.
“When our area has electricity, the water lines aren’t running. And when there’s water, we don’t have electricity. So he ends up staying awake all night waiting for electricity to come.”
Abu Fouad explains the water tank routine he takes care of. “In good circumstances, when we have electricity, it still takes at least an hour and a half to pump the water to each 1,500 litre tank. Since there are six tanks, it takes almost half a day.”
But that’s when there is regular electricity. Now with the power cuts, he is left waiting for the time when electricity and town water coincide.
“I’m worried about everyone in our house. They all need water. How will they wash for prayers? How will they cool down in this heat?”
The head of the family, he thinks of his children and their families. “Everyone comes home from work or school wanting to wash and refresh. But now its very hard for them to do so.”
A devout Muslim, he worries about cleanliness for praying. “Now that it is Ramadan, it’s all the more important to wash. I don’t ask for much, but I do need to wash my hands, face, body before praying, and I pray five times a day.”
Waiting for the chance to refill their water tanks, Abu Fouad misses out on rest.
“I’m not sleeping much. It’s easier to go without sleep when you are young, but when you are older like me, and in this heat, you suffer. I’m very tired. My joints ache. I need this rest. I need the cleansing water.”
Abu Jaber agrees that the problem impacts the entire house. “My daughter studies virtually at university, and she absolutely needs a computer and internet access to do her studies.”
His eight-year-old son, Ahmed, also feels the cuts. “He’s fasting this year. He fasted last year, no problem. But because there’s no relief from this intense heat, he’s finding it very hard physically this year.” Abu Jaber speaks of his younger brother, 31, and without work for several years. “My brother opened an ice cream shop a few months ago, to work during the summer months. And just when he started to get customers and collect what he’d invested, the power cuts got worse.”
“The money I earn from the shop doesn’t compensate me for what I spent to open it. My generator isn’t meant to run for hours at a time,” says Abu Oday. “And to run it six hours costs me 30 shekels (seven dollars) in fuel.”
Unemployed before opening the shop, the 29-year-old wanted an income to support his wife and three children. “I end up paying more for the diesel and generator maintenance than I earn. So I’m closing the shop.”
The problems of one family are mirrored by families around the Strip, with a population of 1.5 million people in a very small, very hot piece of land.
“Because of the electricity and water shortages, it’s the hardest Ramadan I’ve experienced yet,” Umm Fouad says. “But we will continue to fast.” (END)