Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Questions (49)

John Halligan


49. Deputy John Halligan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a large sewage treatment plant being constructed in Gaza with funding from the World Bank may not become operational due to a shortage of required electric power, and that an appeal for more electricity made to Israel has been ignored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41184/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The new sewage treatment plant in Gaza is critical infrastructure to protect public health, and especially to prevent the total contamination of Gaza’s groundwater, from which all drinking water is drawn, by sewage leaking from the existing inadequate facilities. The future operation of the plant is a matter of speculation, but it is clearly essential that it become fully operational as soon as possible. The position in relation to electric power is somewhat more complicated than suggested in the question. Mains electricity supply in Gaza is partly supplied directly by Israel, as a normal commercial transaction, and partly generated by the Gaza power plant. The power plant in turn depends either on fuel supplied by the Palestinian Authority via Israeli controlled border crossings, or smuggled in from Egypt. These two sources were already inadequate to meet all of Gaza’s needs, and power cuts have been endemic for some years. In recent years, however, the situation has worsened considerably. The Hamas authorities in Gaza have purchased less power from Israel, either because they wished to be less dependent on Israel or because it was more expensive. At the same time, however, they have refused to pay the Palestinian Authority for the fuel it supplied, with the result that the PA ended supplies. The end result has been an increased reliance on fuel smuggled in from Egypt, which comes through the tunnel system controlled and taxed by Hamas, and so provides them with revenue.

The recent turmoil in Egypt, and particularly strong Egyptian measures to control the border and reduce smuggling, has reduced this source of fuel supply on which Gaza has become over-reliant, and threatened further power cuts. I am not certain that Israel has in fact been asked to supply more power, or if so under what terms.

The power supply in Gaza, and in due course the operation of the new sewage plant when it becomes operational, are of course of critical importance for public health. I urge all relevant authorities, and not just in Israel, to take appropriate steps to meet this need.