Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 13:30 UK

Gaza Strip shortages bite hard

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza

When Hamas violently took control of Gaza last summer, Israel's response was to impose sanctions on the territory. All but basic humanitarian aid and some fuel supplies has been prevented from getting in, shortages of everyday goods have been become commonplace, and the impact has been wide-ranging.

Raed Abu Ajwah, a Gaza farmer, suffocates his chicks
A Gaza farmer kills thousands of chicks because without gas supplies they will die in days

Raed Abu Ajwah, 33, said it had been the most difficult day of his life. He is a poultry farmer in north-east Gaza, but has now all but lost his livelihood.

He had spent the last few hours destroying tens of thousands of his hatchlings.

"There was no other option, believe me," Raed said. "I just don't have the gas to keep the chicks warm, it isn't available in Gaza right now. Thousands of them have been dying because they are cold at night. I am trying to feed them, but I know they will die in a few days anyway because there's no gas."

"No-one has the money to buy them. Even if I give them away, nobody can keep them warm."

"Today we tied 50,000 chicks in plastic bags and suffocated them. I am screaming and screaming in pain and nobody is listening."

Reliance on gas

People in Gaza rely on gas allowed into the territory through the borders with Israel. There have been shortages since sanctions began. Three weeks ago, Palestinian militants attacked the main fuel terminal with Israel. Gas supplies were stopped.

Queues at a Gaza gas station
Long queues formed in Gaza on the rumour that gas supplies were coming

Gazans do not just use gas in their homes and bakeries, or, like Raed, their farms. Many have also converted their cars to run on gas because of petrol shortages.

On a visit to a gas station in Gaza City, we found a huge queue of people waiting with empty gas canisters, wanting to fill them up.

The rumour that Gaza would get a small delivery soon, had led some, like 64-year-old Abu Atta, to sleep at the gas station for three days.

"The situation goes from bad to worse, there is no money in the banks and no gas coming from Israel, sick people are dying," he said. "I am more than 60 years old, sleeping here, leaving my children at home, and all for a bottle of gas."


The problems are affecting the environment too. Looking out from the beach close to Gaza City, the waters, which were clear blue a matter of months ago, are now brown and foamy.

Sewage pours into the sea of Gaza
Millions of litres of Gaza's sewage pour into the sea daily

The stench is overwhelming. It's here that around 40m litres of sewage every day are pumped straight into the sea.

The UN warns of the damage that is being done, not just along Gaza's coastline, but further north along Israel's, where the Mediterranean drift takes the sewage.

"Since January, Israeli sanctions against Gaza have really begun to bite," says Conal Urquhart from the United Nations office in Gaza.

"There has not always been enough power for the sewage works, and no spare parts have been in for months to make essential repairs to the plant. The sewage simply can't be treated, but it is a problem that is easy to reverse if the will is there."

Similar difficulties have affected Gaza's Water Distribution Authority.

"In the worst case, some areas, big neighbourhoods, are only getting water for eight hours a week," Munther Shublak, the authority's director, told me. "Even then, we no longer have the chemicals to disinfect the water properly."

But the Israeli blockade has been imposed as a means of putting pressure on Hamas, and the Palestinian militants who frequently fire rockets from Gaza at Israeli towns across the border.

The militants continue their attacks, so shouldn't some of the blame be laid on them, I ask him?

"I have been promised more than 10 times with during meetings with the Israelis that they will let the entry of materials which has never happened so how can I blame Hamas for not respecting other people's promises," Mr Shublak said.

Outside Gaza, where there is perhaps less fear of comeback, there certainly has been widespread condemnation of Hamas tactics.

There is no doubt that the actions of militants are contributing to Gaza's woes.

The UN has criticised them, but also called Israel's response "disproportionate", and leading aid agencies have called the sanctions on Gaza "collective punishment".

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