Drowning Under the Gaza Blockade
An emergency worker provides assistance to Gaza residents trapped by flooding caused by recent winter storms.Photo: Nader Habashi
One of the strongest winter storms in decades hit the occupied Palestinian territory on December 11th bringing with it strong winds, heavy rains, and low temperatures. The storm also brought new hardship to an already exhausted population in the Gaza Strip and exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis caused by the 7 year long Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The situation in Gaza is growing increasingly dire. As of December 14, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that:
- At least 1,500 homes have been damaged or destroyed due to flooding
- Over 10,000 people have been displaced from their homes
- One infant has died as a result of exposure to cold weather and an additional 100 people have reported storm related injuries
It is anticipated that thousands more people have been or will be displaced from their homes this week.
A number of factors have contributed to this unfolding disaster:
- The main Gaza power station has shut down regularly since November 1st as a result of an unprecedented fuel crisis caused by the blockade. This has resulted in power cuts which last up to 18 hours per day and leave the 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip without power most of the time.
- Both the power infrastructure and the waste water management systems in Gaza have been severely damaged or left nonfunctional as a result of Israeli attacks on Gaza that have occurred since 2006. Repairs needed to this vital infrastructure have not been possible because of the seven year old blockade over Gaza which includes a ban on the import into Gaza of the spare parts needed to carry out infrastructure repairs.
- As a direct result of the power cuts and damaged infrastructure, water pumping stations and waste water lagoons across Gaza have been overloaded throughout this winter season. Even before this latest storm several pumping stations and lagoons across Gaza had failed causing flooding in neighborhoods across Gaza. At least 4 pumping stations failed this last weekend leading to new flooding.
- The opening of dam gates by Israel just east of the Gaza border on December 13th also let a flood of water into Gaza. This was the cause of flooding in several neighborhoods in the central area of the Gaza strip. The opening of these same flood gates has resulted in similar catastrophes in the past and the negative impact that would result from opening these gates was known before they were opened.
- Power cuts and fuel shortages mean that many Gazans also are not able to heat their homes and do not have the fuel that they need to cook meals.
- Poorly functioning water infrastructure also means that Gaza residents have unreliable access to running water and sewage floods have led to severe pollution in water supplies making much of the available water supply unpotable.
While the recent storm has caused new hardship, what must be acknowledged is that the current situation is a manmade disaster that has developed as a result of the blockade. The lack of fuel in Gaza is a result of the blockade. The shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant is a result of the blockade. The sewage floods that have resulted from the failure of pumping stations and other infrastructure are a result of the blockade.
The blockade is a brutal form of collective punishment and is illegal under international law. After seven years the only result of the blockade has been enormous suffering among the Gaza population. This policy, implicitly supported by the international community and explicitly supported by the US government, must end.
We therefore ask that you take immediate action by contacting your Senators and Representatives to ask that they demand an end to the siege on Gaza, which is what has caused the infrastructure failures in Gaza and led to the current crisis.
We also ask that you share information about what is happening in Gaza with others in your community and demand an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza today.