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UN: Gaza power shortages deepening already dire humanitarian situation

July 12, 2017 5:23 P.M. (Updated: July 12, 2017 7:55 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Rights groups and United Nations agencies have continued to express grave concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip, where two million Palestinians under Israeli siege have faced the devastating effects of Palestinian Authority (PA) budget cuts, primarily affecting electricity supply and the medical sector.

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner said in a statement Wednesday that the ongoing power shortages, recently exacerbated by an Israeli decision to slash electricity supply at the request of the PA, has deepened the humanitarian crisis.

The statement said some areas in Gaza were getting six hours of electricity, but reports indicated that the majority of Gazans were coping with only four hours of power a day.

Citing a number of UN experts including the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory Michael Lynk, the statement highlighted the precarious conditions in which Gaza’s hospitals were operating, growing water shortages, and the untreated sewage being dumped into the sea due to lack of electricity.

“The two million residents of Gaza are suffering through a humanitarian crisis that is entirely human-made,” the experts said. “We call on all those involved to immediately resolve their issues, and not to further penalize the residents of Gaza for political disputes among elites,” they said.

“We call on the international community not to turn a blind eye to Gaza. And we call for a full and immediate end to the 10-year blockade and closure, which amounts to collective punishment contrary to international law.”

While the statement noted the decision to reduce electricity to Gaza came at the request of the PA, amid an increasingly bitter feud with Gaza’s de facto leaders Hamas, the rapporteurs emphasized that “Israel, as the occupier controlling the entry and exit of goods and people, bore the primary responsibility for the deterioration of the situation.”

With electricity availability scarce, “Families are struggling to safely store and prepare food without refrigeration -- a recipe for disaster when combined with the weakened health services. Cooking, heating, and lighting, and other fundamentals of the right to housing are jeopardized. People with disabilities, older people, and women are being hit especially hard,” they said.

“The agricultural sector is also suffering severely limited irrigation, which will worsen widespread food insecurity if the situation continues,” the experts noted.

“Many operating rooms have now been shut down, basic health services have been drastically cut and complex diagnostic equipment and interventions are available only intermittently,” they said.

As a result of the decade-long Israeli blockade, hospitals in Gaza were already struggling to provide adequate care. However, in addition to the electricity cuts, reports have emerged that both the PA and Israel have played a role in preventing Palestinians from receiving permission to leave the besieged coastal enclave for treatment.

To leave Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to receive treatment in the occupied West Bank, Gazans must first apply to the PA before applying to Israel.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) released a statement Monday, following up on the decrease in medical referrals for treatment abroad being issued by the PA Health Ministry, which came without explanation.

PCHR said it sent a letter to Health Minister Jawad Awwad on June 21, expressing its concern over the delay of medical referrals for the Gaza Strip patients and demanding that the minister send the financial coverage for patients, especially for cancer and cardiac patients and children.

The response received from the ministry’s External Medical Treatment Department on July 3 reiterated the ministry's previous rejection of the reports as “fake allegations.”

However, data collected by PCHR showed medical referrals issued for the Gaza Strip patients reached 2,190 referrals in March, declining to 1,756 in April at a rate of 19.8 percent, to 1,484 at a rate of 32.2 percent, and to a paltry 500 in June at a rate of over 75 percent.

PCHR also reported that the ministry terminated on June 15 a new mechanism for dealing with serious medical cases, which require approval of the director of the external medical treatment department.

According to the statement, of over 2,500 patients suffering from serious diseases who have already been approved by the Higher Medical Committee in June for treatment abroad, just 400 have been approved for financial coverage.

These measures deny dozens of patients who need urgent treatment the opportunity to receive medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip. They also result in a grave deterioration in the health sector and jeopardize the patients’ lives,” PCHR said.

The statement further warned that “a number of these patients were admitted to the intensive care unit in Gaza following their health status deterioration,” and that “hundreds of patients have been expecting death in the Gaza Strip hospitals in light of the absence of any opportunity to receive treatment abroad.”

Spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry previously said that at least 11 people, most of them children, have died since the beginning of the year as a result of Israel and the PA's refusal to issue travel permits for them.
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