Gaza's infrastructure suffers unprecedented damage

Operation Protective Edge  picture: Reuters
Operation Protective Edge picture: Reuters

The damage to Gazas water and electricity infrastructures will cost billions to repair.

The scope of damage to infrastructures in Gaza is unprecedented, and herculean efforts will be necessary to repair them, said Sara Badiei, who oversees infrastructures in Gaza for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

UN sources yesterday estimated the damage to homes and infrastructure from the ground war and air strikes at $5 billion. This figure is based on data submitted by Hamas, according to which some 10,000 homes in Gaza were completely demolished, and another 30,000 were severely damaged.

We still dont know the full scope of the damage. We are talking about billions, but any attempt to estimate costs at this stage would not be serious, says Badiei, who heads the Red Cross civil engineering department in Gaza. According to Badiei, What is clear already is that the damage is far greater than it was in previous rounds of fighting.

The most severe infrastructure damage was to water systems, sewage, and electricity. The only Palestinian power station that operates in central Gaza was hit six says ago, during the fighting.

We estimate that it will take close to a year for the station to become operational again, says Badiei, The main problem is that the fuel storage tanks were completely destroyed. In addition, eight of the ten high-voltage power lines from Israel (with a total capacity of 120 megawatts), through which Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22) delivers electricity to the residents Gaza are down. The only power source that is still operational is from Egypt, which supplies 30 megawatts of power to Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Gazas peak power consumption reaches 400 megawatts (compared with Israel and the Palestinian Authoritys combined 11,000 megawatts -A.B.). The electricity infrastructures that operated in Gaza prior to Operation Protective Edge managed to supply only 200 megawatts, which provided power for just six hours a day.

In addition to the many poor, there are also quite a few wealthy residents of Gaza, who have private generators in their homes. One of my neighbors has a private generator that runs a water pump and filter as well, says Badiei, But the big problem today is the diesel shortage. My neighbor paid $100 for fuel that powered the generator for two hours.

The Palestinian power station, which is near the Nuseirat refugee camp, has a 120 megawatt capacity, but due to the fact that operating it is not financially worthwhile, it only operated at half-capacity before Operation Protective Edge. The station can operate on natural gas or heavy industrial fuel says Badiei, Natural gas does not reach the Strip, and heavy industrial industrial fuel used to come through the tunnels from Egypt. Since the tunnels were blocked, the Palestinians buy heavy industrial fuel from Israel - this oil is much higher quality than the Egyptian oil, but it is also twice as expensive. The result is that the cost of producing electricity is NIS 1.7 per kWh, while the electricity that comes from Israel is sold for NIS 0.47 per kWh. So the Palestinians prefer the Israeli electricity.

And they dont even pay for it

I dont know exactly what happens in relations between the Palestinians and the Israel Electric Corporation, but I can say that in the recent period there have been great efforts made by PENRA and GEDCO (the Palestinian Electric Authority and the Gaza Electric Company - A.B.) to increase collection rates. In the beginning, they threatened to jail those who owe money - but the prisons in Gaza are already completely overcrowded. Right before Operation Protective Edge, they started another initiative, in which people pay for electricity in advance, and that was fairly successful. 30%-40% of the population pays for electricity, but when there is 40% unemployment, it is obviously difficult to reach high collection rates. The cost of electricity that the Gaza Strip consumes is roughly NIS 120 million per month, and the income from collection is roughly NIS 30-40 million. Electricity rates are around NIS 0.5 per kWh, such that even if the collection rate were 100%, income would not even cover costs, not to mention profit.

The water problem

The damage to the electricity infrastructures in Gaza is relatively easy to fix, compared with, the damage to the water infrastructures, which are, for the most part, underground. We succeeded in re-operating one of the wells that provides water to one of the neighborhoods yesterday, and what happened was that the streets became flooded in that neighborhood because the pipes were ruined, explains Badiei. In every place that a house collapsed, holes and damage to the pipes occurred, and this will probably necessitate switching all the water infrastructures in those areas. We succeeded in repairing severe damage to the main sewage line in the Jabalia refugee camp, which was causing homes to be flooded with sewage, but 3 out of 5 wastewater treatment facilities are still not working.

What do people who dont have running water or a home water production and filtration system do?

They buy water from the water dealers. Even those who have water service are paying much more: the price per cubic meter jumped from NIS 25 to NIS 60 since the beginning of the operation.

The shortage of drinking water is the most serious infrastructure problem in Gaza, which gets most of its drinking water from local underground reservoirs and the rest from small treatment facilities. The reservoir pumping rate is three times greater than the rate at which they are filled, says Badiei. Even today you can see that water coming out of many wells has muddy sediment at the bottom of the bucket, and there is a steadily worsening problem of sea water infiltration. The salinity level varies, but for example when I shower here, I feel that the water is almost as salty as seawater.

Badiei, who is a Canadian citizen, was born in Afghanistan, and was forced to flee with her parents after the Soviet takeover. The family arrived in Canada after some time in Iran and Pakistan. She started her current job in March of this year, and says she was amazed to discover that the Palestinians with whom she works in the Red Cross offices are people with advanced academic degrees from the worlds leading university. This fact gives her hope. We, at the Red Cross, will gather great resources and people to rebuild the Gaza Strip, and we need all the help we can get, but I can say that this morning, for the first time this month, I woke up with a smile.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on August 6, 2014

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

Operation Protective Edge  picture: Reuters
Operation Protective Edge picture: Reuters
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