New crisis looming as power shortages worsen
One year since the ceasefire between the Government of Israel and Hamas, the promised economic improvements for people in Gaza have failed to materialize, Oxfam said today.
Despite the commitment in the ceasefire to facilitate the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, 1.7 million people are still trapped under the Israeli blockade and largely cut off from the outside world. Exports allowed out of Gaza have dropped by half since 2012 and Palestinian fishermen and farmers continue to be prevented from accessing the most productive areas.
Overall, while the past 12 months have been the quietest security period in 10 years, violations continue. In the past year, Israel has carried out over 300 incidents of border and naval fire – half of them against fishermen at sea – and Palestinian factions have fired over 140 homemade rockets towards Israel.
“Optimism has faded”
Gaza now faces a fresh crisis as people struggle to cope with worsening power shortages, with only about 40 percent of needed fuel currently entering Gaza daily, at double previous prices. Power blackouts of 12-16 hours a day are restricting the provision of basic services such as healthcare and water, and affecting an already vulnerable economy. This week one of Gaza’s main pumping stations ran out of fuel and several thousand liters of sewage poured into the streets.
The Israeli blockade left Gaza’s impoverished population with little choice but to use tunnels from Egypt to bring in affordable food, fuel and construction materials. The Egyptian government’s closure of most of the tunnels since July 2013 has exacerbated an already precarious situation.
“Ordinary people in Gaza are struggling to find work and feed their families while the blockade remains in place. The optimism of a year ago has faded, and long-term security for civilians in Gaza and Israel alike will only come if it goes hand in hand with development and economic opportunity,” said Nishant Pandey, head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
How the blockade is throttling Gaza’s economy
- In the first ten months of 2013 only 111 commercial export trucks left Gaza, compared to 254 in 2012, and over 5,000 a year before the blockade was imposed. This year is set to be the lowest for exports since 2009. Imports are currently at half the pre-blockade levels.
- Access restrictions continue to have a devastating impact on livelihoods and the economy. Fishermen are prevented from going any further than six nautical miles off the coast, while farmers are not allowed to access much of the fertile land at the edge of the Gaza Strip.
- Over 80 percent of people in Gaza are now in need of humanitarian aid, and 65 percent of families are expected to be food insecure by the end of the year – up from 44 percent in 2011. Two thirds of Gaza’s population currently receives clean water supply only once every three to four days.
- Several thousand construction workers have lost their jobs since July as the availability of construction materials has dropped to a third of pre-blockade levels. The construction sector has been one of the few industries that had until now managed to grow under the blockade. Unemployment in Gaza is expected to rise to over 40 percent by the end of the year.
- Only 3-400,000 liters of fuel a day currently enter Gaza through official crossings – well below the 1 million liters a day that used to come through the tunnels and is needed to supply Gaza’s power plant, hospitals, waste water treatment units and households. Ongoing intra-Palestinian divisions and budget constraints have added to the severe problems created by the blockade in restricting the entry of fuel into Gaza.
Stop firing on fishermen and farmers
Oxfam urged Israeli authorities to allow movement of Palestinian people and goods between Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to end the use of live fire against fishermen and farmers. The agency also called on the Government of Egypt to ensure that official crossings at Rafah are open for Palestinian people and goods. Oxfam supports a comprehensive negotiated settlement of the conflict based on international law.
Briefing note: Beyond Ceasefire: Ending the blockade of Gaza (December 2012)
Crisis in Gaza: What Oxfam is doing