* Sewage treatment plant stops, fills streets with waste
* Fuel shortage affects all aspects of Gazan life
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Nov 14 Children waded through sewage
submerging the streets of a central Gaza neighbourhood on
Thursday, a day after one of the blockaded Palestinian enclave's
largest waste water treatment plants stopped for lack of fuel.
Fetid muck, which bubbles up from manholes and overflows
from the idle plant when waste goes untreated, could soon spill
into the homes of tens of thousands more residents in downtown
Gaza City, officials and residents said.
Egypt's months-long crackdown on cross-border smuggling
tunnels that used to bring fuel in cheaply has already forced
Gaza's only power plant to stop, meaning two weeks of daily
12-hour blackouts for the territory's 1.8 million residents.
"This is the start of a catastrophe and unless the world
listens to our cries, a real disaster may hit Gaza and its
people," Gaza municipality's Sa'ad El-Deen Al-Tbash said.
"This is a humanitarian, not a political issue. Gaza's
children did nothing to deserve being stuck in sewage," he told
Gazan municipality officials said the treatment plant served
120,000 residents. They warned that other waste water facilities
may soon run out of petrol to fuel generators.
Along one street, passersby covered their noses, and some
residents driving donkey carts helped those slogging through
pools of waste.
Egypt's closure of most of the estimated 1,200 tunnels run
by the Islamist Hamas group has virtually stopped Egyptian fuel
coming into Gaza, forcing Palestinians to buy Israeli imported
petrol at double the price - 6.7 shekels ($1.9) a litre.
Egypt's military backed government fear the tunnels are used
to take weapons into the Sinai Peninsula, and accuse Hamas of
backing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted by the
security forces in July.
Israel has imposed its own blockade on Gaza, allowing in
fuel and a restricted list of imports since Hamas took control
in 2007. Hamas has spurned Western calls to recognise Israel and
Unable to buy the expensive Israeli petrol, some Gaza taxi
drivers have looked for alternatives in their kitchens, using
gas from domestic tanks or mixing cooking oil with diesel.
"I can't fill my car with Israeli petrol ... I couldn't make
a living if I did," said a Gaza taxi driver who installed a
bottle of cooking gas in his vehicle.
He asked not to give his name to avoid hefty police fines
for using the fuels, which are deemed a health hazard.
Despite the risks, the practice is widespread.
"Passing through some Gaza streets, it smells like a big pot
of french fries," quipped one Gaza Facebook user.
Gaza economist Maher Al-Tabbaa' said the shortages of fuel
and power meant that many businesses could not afford to run a
generator, which costs about 100 shekels ($28.5) an hour.
"The continuing stoppage of the Gaza power plant for 18
hours a day foreshadows a real catastrophe that might affect the
basic food security of the people as well as the health and
education sectors," Tabbaa' said.
The fuel shortage is affecting life at every level.
Residents have taken to planning their social lives around
the power cuts. Many make sure not to leave homes in the evening
without a torch.
"The first question someone asks when invited over by a
friend is 'will there be electricity? I don't want to climb the
stairs'," said Ali Mohammed, an electrician.
"I blame the whole world," he said.
(Editing by Noah Browining and Louise Ireland)