The United Nations on Thursday began distributing fuel in Gaza to keep critical infrastructure running as fears of a health crisis grow over accumulating rubbish and sewage, a UN official said.
“Fuel is actually coming in, as of today, through the Kerem Shalom (goods crossing with Israel), purchased by UNRWA and distributed by the UN,” the organisation’s Middle East special coordinator Robert Serry told a news conference in northern Gaza.
“That doesn’t resolve the fuel crisis in Gaza, but it does provide a safety net, we hope, for the coming two to three months for those critical installations here,” he added.
Serry’s announcement came as the Islamist Hamas-run Palestinian territory suffers the most serious fuel crisis in its history, with daily power outages of up to 16 hours.
Hospitals, water and sanitation plants, businesses and private homes are all being hit.
The minister responsible for the Middle East at Britain’s Foreign Office said that a year after a truce ended fighting between Israel and Hamas, conditions in Gaza had only worsened.
“It is profoundly disappointing that the living conditions for the 1.7 million civilians inside Gaza have, if anything, deteriorated,” Hugh Robertson said in a statement.
“We call on the Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian authorities to work together to ensure that the efforts to shut down smuggling tunnels are accompanied by equally determined efforts to open up legal trade and movement for the people of Gaza,” he said.
“The needs and rights of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza must be protected, as must the legitimate security concerns of Israel and Egypt.”
Serry said he had come to investigate the overflowing of “a critical sewage station” in Gaza City last week as a result of the fuel shortage.
“It is due to a Turkish donation that I can tell you that this station has now been getting the needed fuel to continue to operate,” he said.
“Turkey is always ready to offer any assistance to improve the difficult humanitarian conditions in Palestine and especially in Gaza,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu told AFP.
Since Sunday, the Gaza Strip has relied on donkey-drawn carts to keep the streets clean because of a lack of petrol for dustbin lorries.
Officials have warned that the growing mountains of rubbish are likely to pose a serious health risk to residents of the enclave.
On November 1, Hamas’s energy authority announced that Gaza’s sole power plant, which supplies 30 percent of its electricity needs, had stopped working because there was not enough fuel to power it.
Hamas has blamed the power outage on Egypt’s destruction of cross-border tunnels used for bringing in diesel and has also accused the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of charging inflated prices for fuel.
Since early 2011, the smuggling tunnels have been the main route for the supply of fuel to the enclave.
That supply almost completely dried up this summer after the Egyptian army began demolishing the tunnels in earnest following its overthrow in July of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, rapidly souring relations between Hamas and Cairo.
The fuel shortage compounds an already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza which has been under tight Israeli blockade since 2006 after militants there seized an Israeli soldier.
It was further tightened in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza but has since been eased considerably, although restrictions on movement and the import of building materials are periodically tightened.