Officials warn: Gaza infrastructures near breaking point

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Jan. 6, 2009

Between 600,000 and 700,000 Gazans have no water, some of them going on a week.

About one million have no electricity, raw sewage is running in the streets in some places and various localities, especially in the northern Gaza Strip, face the threat of sewer backups.

Repairmen cannot easily get out to make repairs, due to the shelling and poor conditions of roads. The mobile and land-line phone networks in the Strip have been seriously damaged from both air strikes and the power shortages. Increasingly, Gazans have no way to contact relatives, local authorities or aid and emergency services, heightening their sense of panic and isolation. That is the picture of the Gazan infrastructure that emerges from the reports of residents and of the Deputy Director of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, Maher Najjar, and Maxwell Gaylard, UN Humanitarian Coordinator. Judging by the number of wells that are inoperable or operating at very low capacity, Najjar estimates that between 40 and 50 percent of Gazans do not have access to water.

Every day, air raids cause additional damage to the water system, and the number of complaints to the water utility increases hourly. Yesterday, for example, the pipe supplying water to the village of Umm al-Nasr, in the Rafah area, was damaged, suspending the supply of water to its 10,000 residents.

A pipe that provides water to about 30,000 people in the central Strip was also damaged by Israeli air strikes. According to statements by Gaza residents to Haaretz, as well as an affidavit submitted by Najjar to Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, people are running out of potable water in their homes and are unable to reach public faucets to obtain additional supplies because of the Israeli offensive.

The homes of about one million Gazans have been without electricity for between five and seven days straight, due to a combination of war-related infrastructure damage and shortages of diesel oil for power plants.

Gaza's water and sewage pumps run on electricity. When there is not enough electricity, they run on standby generators, which are powered by diesel fuel. If the supply of fuel is not renewed to these generators within two days, the remaining 25 operating fresh-water pumps in Gaza City and the rest of the Strip will stop pumping. In Rafah, for example, 70 percent of residents could be without water within two days.

Spare parts, such as tubing, pipes, and air and water filters, are in short supply because Israel has prohibited their entry into the Strip since during the cease-fire.

The Red Cross yesterday was negotiating with the Israel Defense Forces over the transfer of about 20,000 liters of diesel fuel that arrived at the Erez border terminal yesterday. The drivers are afraid of being hit by IDF fire, in addition to the dangers of negotiating Gaza's poor roads.

Out of the 37 sewer pumping stations in the Gaza Strip, 32 are operating only partially because of the lack of electricity, while the remaining five are not operating at all.

A pumping station in Beit Lahiya stopped operating after its generator was damaged by the IDF operation, and as a result sewage is collecting in the street. Four pumping stations in Gaza City have run out of diesel for the backup generators and the sewage from three of them is flowing into the sea, while runoff from the fourth is flooding nearby farmland. If the fuel supply to the remaining pumps is not renewed within a few days the sewage will be flowing into the streets as well.

In Beit Hanun, sewage has flowed in the streets for six days since a pipe carrying it to the treatment plant was damaged. As of yesterday, efforts to coordinate the dispatch of technicians with the IDF have failed.

The sewage levels in the giant wastewater treatment plant in the northern Strip (which was to have been emptied out over a month ago to prevent flooding) are steadily increasing, posing a danger to the 10,000 people living nearby.

Injured Gaza family still awaits evacuation

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Jan. 6, 2009

As of last night, almost 48 hours after a shell struck the isolated A'aiedy family home in a farming area in the eastern Gaza Strip, all attempts to evacuate the injured family members have failed.

Two 80-year-old women and three of their grandsons were injured in the strike, which destroyed part of the house. They have been treating the injuries with water and salt, but the wounds have become infected, the owner of the home, Hussein al-A'aiedy, says.

Red Cross ambulances were unable to come near the area Sunday. Attempts by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) to coordinate evacuation also failed, and the family remains in one room in the yard of the damaged house.

Late Sunday evening a Palestinian ambulance arrived to pick up injured people from a cluster of houses not far away. According to A'aiedy, the ambulance crew was also ready to pick up his injured family members, but the Israel Defense Forces would not let them. Yesterday afternoon, the IDF liaison's office told PHR that the injured could not be evacuated because of the firefights that were taking place all around the area. A'aiedy confirmed that tanks were firing toward the house. He told a representative of PHR that he wanted to take the children to a more open area so the army would not fire at them.

A'aiedy's only link with the outside world is a mobile phone he recharges from the battery he dismantled from a motorbike.

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