JABALYA, Gaza Strip, Aug 24 (Nidal al-Mughrabi/Reuters) - Some locals blame it on internal Palestinian politics, others try to blame it on Israel
. Whatever the reason, constant electricity outages during a summer heat wave are driving people to distraction in Gaza
Residents in the coastal enclave, which is run by the Islamist Hamas
group, have been losing their electricity for up to 16 hours a day during the holy month of Ramadan, ruining festive family gatherings and jeopardising businesses.
This is not a life, said Hassan Haweela, a father of eight sitting on the pavement outside his shabby one-floor house in Jabaliya refugee camp
in the northern Gaza Strip.
Myself and my kids sit here to escape the heat. We sometimes even take our mattresses outside and sleep here where it is a bit cooler, he added.
Gaza's precarious energy supply is bad at the best of times, with a rickety infrastructure system badly degraded during recent confrontations between Israel and Hamas.
Israel's bombardment of Gaza's power plant in 2006 destroyed six transformers and at present, only one transformer is operating at a much-reduced capacity.
But the situation has been made much worse by a row over the funding of fuel supplies, pitting Hamas against its arch internal rival, the Palestinian Authority
, which used to control Gaza and still handles the enclave's power bill.
Two-thirds of Gaza's power needs are provided by Israel and, to a very small degree, by Egypt, with the remaining third generated locally by the war-damaged power plant.
The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank and a recipient of generous Western aid, pays Israel for the fuel required to run Gaza's generator and also pays Israel and Egypt for power they feed directly into the impoverished territory.
Hamas says their rivals are not paying enough to meet Gaza's energy needs, while the PA says Hamas has failed to collect payments from subscribers, resulting in a cash shortfall.
MISERY UNDER THE SUN
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
said in a statement on Tuesday that enough fuel to power two generators for five days will be shipped starting Wednesday, since the Gaza electric company had paid $2 million into the account.
But continuation of the supply hinges on the continuation of the Gaza electricity distribution company transferring the money for it, Fayyad said. That means collecting money from citizens who are capable of paying, including Hamas.
Whoever is to blame for the outages, the outcome is painfully clear for the 1.5 million people crammed into this tiny splinter of land -- constant power outages that plunge whole districts into darkness at nightfall, render fridges useless and halt water pumps.
It is hell, said Haweela's wife, Umm Hassan, after eating a pre-dawn breakfast in the ghostly light of an oil-filled lamp.
The situation is perhaps worse in daylight because fans and air conditioning units stand idle as the temperature soars into the 30Cs (above 90F) during a summer of exceptional heat.
Even a trip to the more breezy coast is hazardous -- local water treatment plants are unable to cope with the electricity cuts, meaning raw sewage is pouring into the sea, turning the Mediterranean beaches into health hazards.
Palestinian company officials say the total monthly fuel bill is 70 million shekels ($18.4 million), with the local Gaza power company collecting just 16 million shekels from users, many of whom complain that they cannot afford their bills.
Aware of the growing public anger over the issue, Hamas and the PA are considering deducting energy charges directly from the salaries of the army of public workers and civil servants.
Hamas pays the wages of 34,000 civil and military employees and the PA pays some 77,000 other workers, with a minimum, automatic deduction of 170 shekel per staffer under review.
Gaza authorities have also promised to push subscribers for timely payment and the PA finance ministry has pledged to cover any shortfall for the next two months to guarantee supplies.
But Gaza residents remain sceptical about any such deals, seeing no quick fixes to their power woes, which have compounded the gloom of an already very depressed economy.
Business is bad. I am afraid to keep large amounts of cheese, dairy products or even preserved food in the fridge because of lengthy power cuts, said Mohammed Abu Osama, whose Gaza City store normally does brisk trade in treats for Ramadan, when Muslims feast between sundown and sunrise.
People also do not buy much because they are afraid it will rot quickly, he said, adding: Nobody cares about our losses. Our leaders do not care. (Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Heinrich)