Experts warn of ‘catastrophic’ consequences as power, water, and medical facilities struggle to cope under bombing.
Mohammed Omer Last updated: 20 Jul 2014

When Umm Ali Abu Sada visits her kitchen, she can see her refrigerator is leaking. Its melting contents mix with blood from a kilo of frozen meat and flow onto the floor – the mother of six can do nothing to stop it.

Electricity cuts over the last 24 hours have left Umm Ali, from Jabalyia refugee camp, with more damage and loss than she can cope with.

“It’s unbearably hot, and I can’t do anything without the electricity to run my refrigerator,” she says.
Gaza residents testify about the effects Israel and Egypt’s blockade of their land has had on their lives.

Despite abject poverty and a disabled husband, she has stockpiled food for herself and her children. She knows the coming days will not be easy, with water supplies almost completely cut off for the past 48 hours.

In order to access water from the tank on the roof, she needs the water generator to work, and that is only possible with the electricity on. Even flushing her toilet is no longer an option.

Her home in northern Gaza is in an area under heavy bombardment, directly in the path of the Israeli offensive, intensifying the crisis Umm Ali has to deal with.

“Things have become much worse since the ground invasion,” she told Al Jazeera.

According to Jamal al-Dardsawi from the local power supplier, 13 electricity feeder lines have been hit by Israeli air strikes and artillery shelling. That means 90 percent of electricity in the Gaza Strip is out.

The 10 percent that remains is not enough to cater to all the needs of Gaza’s 1.8 million people, and results in prolonged periods of blackouts.

Depending on the area they live in, residents of Gaza get between two and four hours of power, although some districts have had no lighting for two days.

For the past two weeks, workers at the power company have been targeted by Israeli gunfire – making Dardsawi reluctant to send his staff members out on the ground to investigate and make repairs.

Three workers have been killed trying to make critical repairs, and continuing hostilities have made such work too dangerous in many areas, said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa programme director at Amnesty International.

A report by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) also highlighted the dangers the workers face.

“The lack of protection during damage repair, operation, and assessment remains the biggest constraint, impeding the immediate repair of water and waste water pipelines,” it said.

UNOCHA added that damage to technical equipment is affecting a majority of Gaza’s population, despite repairs to two lines with the cooperation of the Israeli authorities.

“This has further undermined the operation of water and sewage facilities, many of which have been damaged,” their report stated.

Gaza’s infrastructure is expected to be hit even further by the knock-on effects of having no power.

That is what Umm Ali is experiencing at her home – the sewage system is flooding and garbage containers, sitting in the hot sun, have not been collected for days.

According to the Emergency Water and Sanitation-Hygiene Group (EWASH), 50 percent of sewage pumping and treatment systems no longer operate. This directly affects about 900,000 Palestinian inhabitants in Gaza.

“Gaza’s infrastructure is on the verge of collapse and the consequences of a continuing lack of clean water could be catastrophic,” said Luther.

EWASH says this situation is extremely dangerous, issuing a warning that the mixing of sewage and water heightened the risk of a serious public health hazard through waterborne diseases.