For weeks, Gazans have been making do with less than half their usual electricity supply — barely a few hours a day — with no sign of the shortages alleviating anytime soon.
Normally, Gaza’s power alternates on eight-hour cycles, with generators providing electricity to those that can afford it in the down times. But since late last year, there have been only three or four hours of electricity a day in total.
The costs of running generators have spiraled. People are trying to light and heat their homes with candles or by burning scrap wood. Families wake in the middle of the night, when the power sometimes comes on, to take showers or wash clothes.
The cause of the shortage is on the one hand simple and on the other complicated, with some citizens blaming Hamas, Hamas officials blaming the rival Palestinian Authority, and still others pointing the finger at Israel.
The simple explanation is that Gaza requires 450-500 MegaWatts of power a day but is receiving barely a third of that. About 30 MW produced by its own ageing power plant, 30 MW imported from Egypt and 120 MW supplied from Israel.
With temperatures dropping to close to the mid-30’s at night, people are trying to run electric heaters and radiators, driving up power demand.
The local power plant, which was heavily damaged by Israeli bombing during a war in 2006 and remains only at about half of potential capacity, could produce slightly more; but there are not enough funds to buy fuel to boost output.
With unpaid consumer bills of around $1 billion, the power company is not in a position to seek more credit. Officials say they need $500 million to rehabilitate the power network.
The Palestinian Authority, which pays for power supplied by Israel and Egypt, normally transfers fuel to Gaza and exempts it from most taxes. But because of its own financial constraints, it is no longer offsetting all the tax, angering Hamas.
Israel’s electricity company could supply more power, and has provisions in place to do so, but it has not been paid for all the electricity it has supplied in the past and wants financial guarantees before it delivers more.
Gaza’s population of two million is growing increasingly angry. There have been protests and more are planned.
At night, Gaza is pitch black, with no street lights or electricity in most homes. On street corners, makeshift fires can be seen burning, with small crowds gathered for warmth.
The noise of generators can be heard from some factories and wealthier households, but most cannot afford to run diesel generators 20 hours a day.