Energy crisis leaves Gaza with barely 4 hours of power a day

GAZA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - For weeks, Gazans have been making do with less than half their usual electricity supply - barely a few hours a day - with no sign of the shortages alleviating anytime soon, fueling distress and frustration among the population.

Normally, Gaza's power alternates on eight-hour cycles, with generators providing electricity to those that can afford it in the down times. But since late last year, there have been only three or four hours of electricity a day in total.

The costs of running generators have spiraled. People are trying to light and heat their homes with candles or by burning scrap wood. Families wake in the middle of the night, when the power sometimes comes on, to take showers or wash clothes.

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Palestinian children sit around the fire Heating in the atmosphere of a rainy and cool in Gaza City on 2nd December 2016 at a time when cut off electricity.

(Photo by Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Palestinian child sit inside his dwellings during the power cut on winter season in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza strip on 12 January 2017.

(Photo by Hosam Salem/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Palestinians warm themselves around the fire due to power cut in Al-Shati Camp in Gaza City, Gaza on December 27, 2016. (Photo by Ezz al-Zanoun/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Palestinian man sits as he sells vegetables in a makeshift shop lit with a lamp powered by a battery during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinians childern sit inside their dwellings during the power cut on winter season in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza strip on 12 January 2017.

(Photo by Hosam Salem/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Palestinian man sells falafel in a makeshift shop lit with a lamp powered by a battery during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinian family warm themselves around the fire outside their dwellings during the power cut on winter season in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza strip on 12 January 2017.

(Photo by Hosam Salem/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Palestinian walks past a makeshift vegetable shop lit with a lamp powered by a battery during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinians walk on a road during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian woman uses a candle light as she works in her kitchen during a power cut inside her house in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian woman uses a candle light as she works in her kitchen during a power cut inside her house in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinian children sit around the fire Heating in the atmosphere of a rainy and cool in Gaza City on 2nd December 2016 at a time when cut off electricity.

(Photo by Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Palestinian man lies outside his house to escape the heat during power cuts at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City July 28, 2015. Palestinian Energy officials said residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 18 hours of electricity outage a day for three days due to fuel and power shortages.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinians warm themselves around the fire due to power cut in Al-Shati Camp in Gaza City, Gaza on December 27, 2016.

(Photo by Ezz al-Zanoun/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Palestinian women rest at the entrance of their house as they escape the heat during a power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City September 15, 2015. Power has been provided to different areas in the impoverished coastal territory in six-hour shifts as Gaza's lone power plant shut its generators on Saturday due to a fuel shortage, energy officials said. Electricity is also supplied to the Gaza grid through power lines from Israel and Egypt. Gaza's plant provides electricity to two-thirds of its population.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian girl lies on the ground to cool off from heat at her family house, lit by a torch, during a power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City September 15, 2015. Power has been provided to different areas in the impoverished coastal territory in six-hour shifts as Gaza's lone power plant shut its generators on Saturday due to a fuel shortage, energy officials said. Electricity is also supplied to the Gaza grid through power lines from Israel and Egypt. Gaza's plant provides electricity to two-thirds of its population.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian woman works inside her kitchen lit by candles during a power cut at her dwelling in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip March 6, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

A Palestinian woman makes tea inside her house during power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City July 23, 2015. Palestinian Energy officials said residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 18 hours of electricity outage a day for three days due to fuel and power shortages.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian woman is reflected in a mirror as she stands inside her house during power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City July 23, 2015. Palestinian Energy officials said residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 18 hours of electricity outage a day for three days due to fuel and power shortages.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinian children play as they use a torch during power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City July 23, 2015. Palestinian Energy officials said residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 18 hours of electricity outage a day for three days due to fuel and power shortages.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A disabled Palestinian woman sits on a beach as she flees the heat during power cut at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City July 23, 2015. Palestinian Energy officials said residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 18 hours of electricity outage a day for three days due to fuel and power shortages.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian man warms up in front of a fire during a power outage outside his house during rainy, cold weather in a slum on the outskirts of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on Dec. 28, 2016. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, experience some 16 hours of electricity outage per day.

(Xinhua/Khaled Omar via Getty Images)

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on January 4, 2017. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing for the past two weeks long hours of electricity outage.

(MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

A Palestinian girl does her homework during a power cut in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on January 4, 2017. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing for the past two weeks long hours of electricity outage.

(MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

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"We live like rats," said Mazen Abu Reyala, an unemployed fisherman and father of five, sitting around a primitive stove that he uses to warm his house. "Should I wait until we get burned? Or should I wait to return home and see that my children burned themselves because they lit candles."

On Thursday clashes with police erupted in the Jabalya refugee camp after thousands of people gathered to protest the power shortage. Demonstrators hurled stones and sounds of gun shots were heard.

A police spokesman said forces were trying to prevent the crowd from storming the offices of the power company.

The cause of the shortage is on the one hand simple and on the other complicated, with some citizens blaming Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, Hamas officials blaming the rival Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and still others pointing the finger at Israel.

The simple explanation is that Gaza requires 450-500 MegaWatts of power a day but is receiving barely a third of that. About 30 MW produced by its own aging power plant, 30 MW imported from Egypt and 120 MW supplied from Israel.

With temperatures dropping to four or five degrees centrigrade at night, people are trying to run electric heaters and radiators, driving up power demand.

The local power plant, which was heavily damaged by Israeli bombing during a war in 2006 and remains only at about half of potential capacity, could produce slightly more, but there are not enough funds to buy fuel to boost output.

With unpaid consumer bills of around $1 billion, the power company is not in a position to seek more credit. Officials say they need $500 million to rehabilitate the power network. But with Israel and Egypt maintaining a tight blockade on Gaza, getting replacement parts is not even that straight forward.

The Palestinian Authority, which pays for power supplied by Israel and Egypt, normally transfers fuel to Gaza and exempts it from most taxes. But because of its own financial constraints, it is no longer offsetting all the tax, angering Hamas.

Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas was open to solutions and accused the Palestinian Authority of using the crisis as a mean to "damage Hamas's image and sanction Gaza's people."

Israel's electricity company could supply more power, and has provisions in place to do so, but it has not been paid for all the electricity it has supplied in the past and wants financial guarantees before it delivers more.

Gaza's population of two million is growing increasingly angry, leading to protests.

Adel Al-Mashwakhy, a local comedian, was detained on Wednesday, hours after posting a video on Facebook criticizing Hamas for the shortages. The video was soon watched 180,000 times.

"There is no work, no crossings, no food, no water to drink and also there is no electricity," he says in the video.

"Enough Hamas. Enough, enough, enough. We want electricity, we want electricity, we want electricity."

At night, Gaza is pitch black, with no street lights or electricity in most homes. On street corners, makeshift fires can be seen burning, with small crowds gathered for warmth.

The noise of generators can be heard from some factories and wealthier households, but most cannot afford to run diesel generators 20 hours a day.

Bakery owner Haitham Badra said he had suffered huge losses because he had to buy more fuel for generators.

"We used to buy 1,500 liters of diesel week. Now we have to buy 4,000 liters at a cost of 20,000 shekels ($5,250) a week," said Badra. "If the crisis continues much longer, all bakeries and restaurants in Gaza will collapse."

Tareq Lubbad, spokesman of the power company, said Gaza normally needed 450 MW a day, but that had increased due to high winter demand. He warned of deeper cuts to come.

"If no substantial solutions are found the crisis will escalate and hours without power will increase," he said.

(Editing by Luke Baker and Angus MacSwan)


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