If someone were to have a heart attack in Gaza, the ambulances might not come. Due to the current fuel crisis in Gaza, one third of the ambulances have completely run out of fuel—the other two-thirds are relying solely on the fuel in their tanks.
Over the past year, Gazans have routinely smuggled fuel in from Egypt through underground tunnels that run between the two countries. These tunnels have long served as an economic lifeline for Gaza, importing black-market goods that would be otherwise banned due Israel’s blockade on Gaza—a blockade that bans the import of “anything that could be construed as a weapon.” On this list is everything ranging from pipes—making repairing factories and sewage treatment plants difficult, fertilizer—which makes farming and food production difficult, and of course, diesel and petrol.
On occasion, Israel has offered to sell fuel to Gaza—but the price of Israeli fuel is far more than the price of black market Egyptian fuel. Gaza, a region characterized by a siege on imports and exports that has crippled its economy and put unemployment rates at well above fifty percent of the population—can either purchase Israeli fuel and increase the price of everything or smuggle Egyptian fuel, and keep goods more affordable. The reasoning behind their decision—as economical as it is ideological—is obvious.
However, Egypt—due to the past year of political reshuffling since overthrowing Hosni Mubarak—has begun to experience a fuel crisis of its own. In February, Egyptian authorities decided to conserve their own fuel by cracking down on the underground tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, almost entirely cutting off the fuel that was entering Gaza. In mid March, Gaza was forced to close its only power plant—which was responsible for sixty-five percent of the electricity of the region—and Gaza began to experience eighteen-hour blackouts.
Even Gaza’s most privileged families are only able to enjoy six hours of electricity per day. Children do their homework by candlelight, and parents throw blankets on crying babies to make sure that they are warm. Families living in refugee camps are forced to live in the dark.
Ninety percent of the service stations in Gaza have dried up completely. Those that still have fuel, have lines of cars for hours, only to have the station announce that it too has run out of fuel. There are hardly any taxis on the streets anymore. Citizens with private cars—a luxury in Gaza—have been instructed to pick up hitchhikers as a civilian duty.
When an ambulance receives a call, the case is analyzed to see if it is serious enough to warrant one of Gaza’s 100 remaining ambulances. If someone makes it to Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest central medical facility, they will find that it is running on back-up generators. Many machines that must operate for many hours at a time—such as those in the intensive care or prenatal unit—are rendered useless by the eighteen-hour blackouts.
If Israel were to launch an attack on Gaza that saw even a fraction of the destruction that was experienced during Operation Cast Lead, Gaza’s medical facilities would be unable to respond.
Gaza—a region characterized by an economically paralyzing land and naval blockade and unemployment rates of well above fifty percent—is cascading even deeper into chaos. Businesses are forced to scale back their operations, causing even more economic depression. Sewage treatment plants are unable to operate, and have begun to dump gallons of untreated waste into the Mediterranean Sea.
On March 23rd, it was reported that 450 thousand liters of industrial diesel would be imported from Israel across the Karm Abu Salem crossing. Although this is a start, this is only enough fuel to run the power plant for 24 hours—maximum. A few days later, the Red Cross announced that it would deliver 150,000 liters of diesel to the Gaza Health Ministry so that hospital generators could keep running—once again, this only ensures their operation for a maximum of ten days, and ignores the other institutions in Gaza that are suffering from the crisis. Where does this leave those who died in an explosion where there were no fire trucks? Where does this leave the child who drowned in a pool of untreated sewage?
It will take far more than an overnight, one-time only charitable shipment of fuel to power the Gaza Strip. Even before the fuel crisis, Gaza’s power plant was only able to operate at two-thirds its capacity, leaving many homes in Gaza without power for up to sixty hours per week. Returning to the way things were—circumventing the land and naval blockade through underground tunnels at the Rafah Crossing—has proven that it is ultimately unsustainable. The only way to prove that Gaza is able to operate—that its power plant, hospitals, sewage treatment plants, taxi services and homes are able to operate at full, not two thirds capacity—is to lift the siege on Gaza, allow normal, reliable imports of diesel and petrol into the country.
Without these long-term policy changes, where will Gaza be in ten days when these emergency fuel imports run out?