Gaza hospitals to run out of fuel within days: UK Government must act   

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is deeply concerned that critical medical services have been cut in Gaza due to the severe lack of fuel in its hospitals, yet no action is being taken by the international community to resolve the situation. The Ministry of Health there announced yesterday, in a meeting with MAP and other international organisations and UN agencies, that most hospitals will run out of fuel in the next four to seven days. The European Gaza Hospital, the second largest in Gaza, has already been forced to suspend MRI scans and sterilisation services. Further cuts are expected and lives will soon be put at risk.

Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Director of Programmes in Gaza, said: “The fuel shortage has reached crisis point and the cuts in medical services are very real and worsening. Lives may soon be lost in this man-made crisis.”

Last week MAP urged the UK Government to intervene to help avert the crisis. Gaza’s sole power plant could then only work at or below half its capacity, due to the chronic fuel shortages, and hospitals only received between eight to 12 hours of electricity per day. On 16 April the plant ground to a halt as fuel funding from the Turkish and Qatari Governments ended and no other donor support had been obtained.

“The fuel shortage has reached crisis point and the cuts in medical services are very real and worsening. Lives may soon be lost in this man-made crisis.”

With limited mains electricity supply, hospitals rely on expensive generators. The fuel to run them costs the Ministry of Health almost $500,000 a month. Unless the international community takes urgent action, more than 100 new-born babies in neonatal intensive care units (ICU) and a further 100 patients in adult ICUs will be put at risk. Some 650 patients with renal failure, who need haemodialysis two to three times a week, will also be endangered and the Ministry of Health’s 40 operating theatres may stop functioning, putting yet more lives in jeopardy.

The hospitals additionally suffer from a chronic shortage of drugs and other medical items. Currently 34% of essential drug items and 30% of medical disposables are at zero stock, meaning there is less than a month’s supply remaining.

Aimee Shalan, MAP’s CEO, urged the UK Government to take action: “The UK alone may not be able to bring about an immediate end to the blockade and closure of Gaza, but it can step up and provide urgent financial support for critical health care services in Gaza and prevent the unfolding humanitarian crisis.”

In recent years, the UK Government has consistently raised the issue of the critical situation of the electricity supply and power plant in Gaza with the Israeli authorities, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu on more than one occasion. In February 2016, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minster of State Baroness Anelay reaffirmed that, Officials at our embassy in Tel Aviv regularly urge the Israeli authorities to ease restrictions on Gaza and to facilitate improvements in electricity infrastructure.” While the UK recognises that Israel, as the occupying power, has an obligation under international law to provide services and protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, this obligation is not being fulfilled. In such a situation, the international community has a responsibility to intervene to support those living under occupation.

“The UK alone may not be able to bring about an immediate end to the blockade and closure of Gaza, but it can step up and provide urgent financial support for critical health care services in Gaza and prevent the unfolding humanitarian crisis.”

Hospital staffing cuts are worsening the situation, as wages to medical professionals funded by the Palestinian Authority (PA) are being reduced. There are also fears that forced redundancies are now planned for some 1,300 doctors and other medical staff who are over 50 years old and/or those with 20 years of service, many of whom are specialists on whom the role of training the next generation depends. The UK recently cut funding to medical personnel in Gaza funded by the PA. This, together with similar cuts from other donors, is already having a negative impact on both short and long-term medical provision.

The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid to the occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper, has warned that the electricity crisis may be the “tipping point” that makes Gaza truly unliveable for its almost two million residents. Piper emphasised that the primary causes of the crisis are the heavy restrictions on movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, for which Israel has most responsibility. The UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, today called for the international community, Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the de facto authorities in Gaza to work together to urgently address the crisis.