By Rachel Wilson, Lou Robinson and Amy O’Kruk, CNN
(CNN) — Fuel is a lifeline for more than 2 million people in Gaza who, three weeks into the siege, are suffering from dire shortages of basic supplies and medical care. The lack of fuel has crippled hospitals, water systems, bakeries and relief operations in the strip, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) warned on Sunday that aid convoy system in Gaza “is geared to fail” if Israel continues to ban fuel.
Amid the threat of vital infrastructure collapsing without fuel, thousands of desperate Palestinians broke into the UNRWA’s warehouses for supplies on Saturday.
The enclave has gone without any fuel deliveries for almost three weeks since the Israeli government ordered a “complete siege” on October 9 and halted food, fuel, water and electricity supplies after Hamas’ attack left more than 1,400 Israelis dead.
Nearly all fuel has been exhausted and UN officials are warning that hospitals are on the brink of collapse without the ability to run backup generators to treat people.
As of Monday morning, 118 aid trucks with food, water and medical supplies have entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing. Israel began allowing a limited number of trucks through on October 21 but has continued to refuse fuel, saying Hamas would use it to launch weapons.
The Israel military says there are fuel supplies in Gaza being held by Hamas which are not being distributed for humanitarian purposes, CNN reported.
The main UN agency in Gaza has said it will have to stop operating when fuel runs out, which was expected on October 25, though some operations have continued by severe rationing.
Gaza cannot produce food or clean water without electricity or fuel.
More than 2 million people in the strip are at risk of contracting waterborne disease as they drink salty and polluted water from farm wells. Bakeries supported by the World Food Programme cannot operate due to airstrike damage and lack of power, officials said.
On October 22, the UNRWA managed to coordinate fuel retrieval from a storage facility in Gaza and distributed it to shelters and hospitals and to operate desalination plants in Khan Younis and Deir al-Balah, now producing 30% of their capacity. But this supply is also expected to run out soon.
UNRWA officials say rescue operations, hampered by a lack of fuel for vehicles, are unable to reach at least 940 missing children as of October 29, who may be trapped under collapsed buildings.
Fuel shortages have also forced six hospitals to close, while others have shut down due to airstrike damage, the World Health Organization has reported. Hospitals that remain in operation are being forced to ration care.
Gaza’s long energy shortage
Gaza’s fuel crisis affects its ability to generate power, which was already inadequate before the siege.
Gaza’s main sources of electricity are its single power plant in Deir al-Balah and from Israeli lines, which make up nearly two-thirds of Gaza’s power supply.
The power plant ran out of fuel two weeks ago, and the country has had to rely on generators for electricity. All other electricity from Israel was also cut off on the evening of Hamas’ attack on October 7.
The 140-square-mile enclave, blockaded by Israel since 2007, relies heavily on imported fuel and electricity to run all its services.
A majority share of Gaza’s fuel imports goes towards operating the power plant, which Qatar has helped fund since late 2018, increasing its fuel supply from 30 million liters in 2018 to over 130 million liters annually up to 2022.
Without additional fuel supplies going into the enclave, current shortages are deepening the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and hospitals and relief workers have to make tough choices about how to allocate their diminishing reserves.
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