Having run out of fuel, on 16 April 2017, the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) in Gaza announced that it would cease the operation of Gaza’s electricity plant. The shutdown meant a reduction in electricity for Palestinians in Gaza to only four hours a day. Gaza’s population subsequently experienced an unprecedented deterioration in humanitarian conditions that has only slightly improved with the start of winter when less electricity is used. With daily blackouts extending to between 12 and 20 hours a day, the authorities struggle to deliver even basic services to Gaza’s two million residents. The negative effects are reflected in the delivery of water, sanitation and medical services, in economic development, and broadly, in the realization of basic human rights.
At the heart of the affected sectors is agriculture. With long, hot summers, crops require frequent irrigation, which is heavily dependent on the availability of electricity to pump groundwater through the irrigation systems. Although alternative energy sources are available, they are generally too costly for farmers to acquire. Once harvested, the market-ready goods are easily perishable without refrigeration.
Without being able to irrigate and store their goods, farmers have experienced devastating financial losses, which has impacted the financial viability of the entire agricultural sector and hindered people’s access to food. Israel, the occupying power that has kept Gaza under tight closure/blockade for more than ten years, imposed a number of measures that critically restrict the import of agricultural materials and tools, particularly iron pipes used for building greenhouses. The Israeli military also frequently carries out chemical spraying activities and ground incursions into agricultural fields along the borderline between Gaza and Israel with armored bulldozers. These practices have caused lasting damage to Gaza’s arable land and has forced some farmers to abandon their trade.
The agricultural sector is vital in Gaza for the relief that it brings in the form of food security and development through job creation. In 2016, the Ministry of National Economy indicated in its Economic Activities Report that 23 percent of the workforce in the Gaza Strip is employed in agriculture. Ergo, the sector is considered a crucial tool to the realization of human rights in the Gaza Strip, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, food, and work.
This fact sheet explores the effects of Gaza’s protracted electricity crisis on the agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip. The details outlined below are derived from, and try to give voice to, the experience of people and stakeholders whose living and working conditions have been affected by the crisis.
In 2017, activist supplied B’tselem with video footage of an Israeli plane spaying herbicides along the border with Gaza (video available here).