Impact of the 10 year Siege and the Electricity Crisis on Health in Gaza

Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council issues this urgent statement to raise awareness and concern about the life-threatening and dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The situation has been made more critical in recent days by a 40% reduction of the already severely limited supply of electricity by Israel.  This catastrophic situation is largely the result of long and short term Israeli policies manipulated and exacerbated by the cynical power struggle between the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

June 2017 marks the ten year anniversary of the Israeli imposed siege on Gaza and the 50th year of the occupation of Palestinian lands. The two million people of Gaza have born the heaviest brunt of this political situation. Israel’s total control of the air, sea and land is responsible for devastating the economy, destroying the health, environmental, educational and social services network in Gaza. In a land flanked by the Mediterranean Sea, graced with fertile ground and a highly educated population, the political situation has left Gaza without adequate water, electricity and health services. Over 80% of the population is dependent on international aide for basic food supplies. Gaza has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world—at 44% overall and for young people coming out of the universities, it is as high as 60%.

The recent reduction of electricity and fuel required for the operation of the sole power plant and for back-up generators deepens the already existing deterioration of life and health for the people of Gaza.  The electrical shortage threatens all aspects of public health infrastructure. Due to power shortages, water desalination plants are running at 15% of capacity, the typical family in Gaza receives running water for an average of 12 hours per week. According to the World Health Organization, over 90% of that water is not safe for drinking or cooking. Due to lack of power to sewage treatment facilities, over 108 million liters of untreated waste is piped into the Mediterranean Sea every day and the risk of raw sewage backup into living areas is great.

Under the current power and fuel cuts, the people of Gaza have about three to six hours of electricity per day—coming at totally unpredictable times. This affects every aspect of life and well being.

Hospitals and medical facilities, operating largely on back up generators are facing an imminent lack of fuel to enable these machines to continue functioning.  Vital health services such as all but the most critical surgeries and emergency services have been cancelled. Sanitation and sterilization of equipment has been cut back, patients are being discharged prematurely from hospitals, essential machinery such as neonatal incubators, ventilators, imaging and dialysis machines that depend on a constant flow of power are breaking down as a result of frequent, intermittent power outages.

This current situation compounds the deterioration of the Gaza health care system that comes as a result of the long years of active policies of de-development and siege that has curtailed the import of essential medications (including such things as chemotherapy and other cancer treatments) and of equipment and parts to repair medical and hospital machinery.  In each of the major wars on Gaza, medical facilities were targeted by the Israeli military. The siege also greatly restricts travel by patients for lifesaving and specialized care not available in Gaza. The restrictions on travel by Gaza health professions results in their isolation and gaps in training and consultation.

The situation is critical now. On June 1, 2017, Al-Jazeera reported the following:

“At al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, 50 babies lie crowded in 30 beds in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Outside, the yard resembles a factory as massive generators roar and hum, turning fuel into electricity, supplying the babies with oxygen through ventilators.

Due to the electricity shortage in Gaza, the generators are the only lifeline for these newborn babies, but even this may be cut soon as Gaza’s fuel reserves are expected to be depleted in a month, placing patients’ lives at risk.

“Most of the babies are connected to mechanical ventilation. If the electricity is cut, most of these babies will die within a few seconds; we cannot support them,” said Dr Allam Abu Hamida, director of al-Shifa’s NICU.

As health workers, our professional ethics and core human values motivate us to act in demanding that the U.S. Government use its leverage with Israel to end the Gaza Blockade and assure that electricity, water and health services are fully and adequately provided.

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