Gaza’s health care system is on the verge of collapse as Israel has cut off the electricity supply to the besieged enclave, leaving hospitals and clinics struggling to cope with the influx of patients amid the ongoing bombardment.
Since Saturday, Gaza has been plunged into darkness as Israel’s energy minister ordered the state-run electricity company to stop providing power to the coastal strip, in response to the rocket attacks launched by armed groups from Gaza.
The punitive measure has worsened the already dire situation in Gaza, where electricity was scarce and erratic even before the latest escalation. According to the Oslo Accords, Israel is obliged to supply Gaza with 120 megawatts of electricity, but it has often reduced or suspended the supply as a form of collective punishment.
Gaza’s sole power plant, which runs on fuel donated by Turkey and Qatar, can only produce 60 megawatts at full capacity, but it has been operating at half of that due to fuel shortages. The plant has also been targeted by Israeli airstrikes in the past, causing severe damage and disruption.
As a result, most of Gaza’s two million residents have been living with only three to four hours of electricity per day, affecting every aspect of their lives, from water supply and sanitation to communication and education.
But the most devastating impact has been on the health sector, which has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic and the casualties from the Israeli attacks. According to the health ministry in Gaza, more than 300 people have been killed and over 2,000 wounded since Monday, when Israel launched its offensive.
Old Backup Generators
Hospitals and clinics have been relying on backup generators to maintain essential services, such as intensive care units, operating rooms, neonatal wards and blood banks. But these generators are old and unreliable, and they consume large amounts of fuel that is running out fast.
“We are really concerned that the power generators may cease functioning at any given moment,” Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry, told Middle East Eye. “The available fuel reserves are insufficient to sustain hospital operations for a long period of time.”
Some medical equipment, such as MRI scanners, cannot function on generator power and have been out of service since May 4. Patients who need MRI scans have to pay for expensive private clinics or wait for referrals to hospitals outside Gaza, which are often delayed or denied by Israel.
Other services, such as dialysis, chemotherapy, laboratory tests and vaccinations, have been drastically reduced or suspended due to the power cuts. Many patients with chronic or terminal illnesses have been left without proper care and medication.
The lack of electricity also poses a serious risk of infection and contamination, as sterilization machines, refrigerators and ventilation systems cannot operate properly. Medical staff have reported shortages of oxygen cylinders, surgical supplies and personal protective equipment.
International health organizations have called for urgent intervention to restore power and provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. The World Health Organization warned that the ongoing power blackouts and fuel shortages threatened the provision of Gaza’s health services and put people’s lives at real risk.
The UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) appealed to the international community to take action over the chronic power deficit. “The fuel shortage has reached crisis point and the cuts in medical services are very real and worsening,” said Fikr Shalltoot, director of MAP’s programs in Gaza. “Lives may soon be lost in this man-made crisis.”
Gaza’s hospitals have faced similar crises before, as Israel has repeatedly attacked and besieged the territory since 2007. But this time, the situation is more desperate than ever, as Gaza faces a triple threat of war, pandemic and power outage.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Yehia al-Nawajha, a spokesperson for the European Gaza Hospital. “We are working under very difficult conditions. We don’t know when this nightmare will end.”