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Gaza's sole power station shuts down, plunging Palestinians into darkness

The only power station in Gaza has been forced to stop operating because of a lack of funding caused by a reduction in fuel tax exemption
A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site at a water and waste disposal plant on 29 March, 2012 (AFP)

The Gaza Strip is suffering from electricity blackouts of up to 20 hours a day, the UN reported on Monday, after the Palestinian enclave’s only power station was forced to shut down due to a shortage of funds.

The UN said that the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) shut down on 8 April, and since then blackouts have increased from 12 hours a day to between 18 and 20 hours.

Prior to its closing, the GPP had been working at approximately 50 percent capacity, providing close to 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity requirements.

The remainder of the required electricity is bought mostly from Israel but also from Egypt, according to the UN.

The UN said Gaza’s Energy Authority has become unable to fulfil its electricity purchasing requirements since the beginning of 2016, as the Ramallah-based Ministry of Finance has “gradually reduced” what was a full exemption on fuel taxes.

“The scope of this tax exemption had been gradually reduced since January, significantly increasing the cost of fuel,” the UN said in a statement posted to its website.

The impact of the electricity shortage has not just been longer blackouts in the enclave, but it has also led to a reduction in the supply of water to households.

The UN estimated that water supply has reduced from approximately 80 litres per person per day to 55 litres.

Crucially, Gaza’s five water treatment plants have had to shorten their treatment cycles due to the electricity shortage, which has had the negative impact of decreasing the “quality of sewage discharged into the sea,” the UN said.

“The potential shut down of sewage pumping stations also exacerbates the risk of back-flow and flooding of raw sewage onto streets,” the UN statement said.

The UN is now coordinating emergency fuel distributions to “critical water, sanitation, health and solid waste collection services, primarily to run backup generators”.

However, the UN’s capacity to continue to deliver emergency fuel are only planned to last until “early May” due to a lack of available funding, and the UN said that currently “no further funding commitments have been secured at this point.”