Solar Empowered: Gazans develop life-saving electricity initiative

Solar Empowered: Gazans develop life-saving electricity initiative
In-depth: EmpowerGaza - a solar energy initiative by Palestinians for Palestinians - is restoring power to Gaza's stricken hospitals, writes Raya al-Jadir.
4 min read
28 March, 2018
EmpowerGaza aims to provide much-needed power for the enclave's key hospitals [Islamic Relief Canada]
Gaza is a city that has seen more than its fair share of destruction and deprivation; nearly a decade of the suffocating siege, combined with four Israeli offensives between 2006 and 2014, brought Gaza nearly to its knees.

Nothing in the summer of 2014 was spared by the Israeli army; residential areas, schools, hospitals and even a disability rehabilitation centre were targeted, and with the extreme shortages of power in Gaza, doctors, healthcare providers and policymakers have been desperately searching for a way to increase their independence from the notoriously unreliable power grid.

What they wanted was to be empowered to care for their patients, like healthcare providers anywhere else in the world. That is how EmpowerGaza came about.

Dr Tarek Loubani, an emergency room physician and assistant professor at Canada's Western University, is one of the main people behind EmpowerGaza.

Dr Loubani has a history of supporting human rights in Gaza and previously worked with the al-Shifa hospital, taking physicians to teach local doctors advanced cardiac life support and advanced trauma life support, which is where the inspiration behind EmpowerGaza was sparked.

The idea of solar power for health in Gaza was proven effective with a project at al-Shifa Hospital - Gaza's largest healthcare facility. Dr Loubani and the EmpowerGaza team then looked at all Gaza's hospitals with intensive care and dialysis units - Al-Aqsa, Kamal Adwan, European Gaza and Rantisi Children's Hospital - and those became the first phase of the project.

All of the work of installing and operating the EmpowerGaza
system will be done by locals living and working in Gaza

The EmpowerGaza project was launched with an Indiegogo campaign to fundraise for the first hospital - Al Aqsa - and received huge support.

"Doctors and health care providers in Gaza, as well as policymakers involved in the decision-making for health care in Gaza have shown excellent support," said Dr Loubani. "Patients who have heard about the project are incredibly excited by how hard we are working to make it a reality."

Read more: Gaza's hospital cleaners become poverty-stricken pawns in politicised crisis

What makes EmpowerGaza unique when compared with other projects, says Dr Loubani, is that "it is by Palestinians and for Palestinians, to ensure that they are able to meet the needs of Gaza's sickest patients. As such, all of the work installing and operating the system will be by locals living and working in Gaza".

When asked why Gaza in particular was the focus, and not any other part of the occupied Palestinian territories where electricity is also a major issue, Dr Loubani explained that there were "excellent initiatives to address the energy issues in other parts of the occupied territories".

"However, while there are electricity problems in other parts, it is clear that the Gaza Strip is in deep crisis, with patients losing their lives to the electricity shortage. Because of this, EmpowerGaza chose the Gaza hospitals as a priority."

The project has yet to encounter any major obstacles. "People all over the world want to help Palestinian patients and are sympathetic to their search for the human right to healthcare."

The EmpowerGaza team have been overwhelmed by the international response, with people contributing to the campaign from more than fifty countries.

It's hard to imagine for people outside Gaza how devastating the power cuts are. Doctors rush through sensitive procedures for fear of the lights getting cut

The biggest implication of this project, however, is the boost to power reliability for doctors and patients alike.

"It's hard to imagine for people outside Gaza how devastating the power cuts are," said Dr Loubani. "Doctors rush through sensitive procedures for fear of the lights getting cut. It's unacceptable, and it has to end."

Many projects and initiatives struggle to flourish in Gaza partly due to bureaucracy and the Israeli occupation, plus during the last attack on Gaza many projects were destroyed by the bombings.

So how can EmpowerGaza overcome these problems? Dr Loubani emphasised their partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has helped ensure the sustainability of the project.

Read more: One woman tackles two of Gaza's toughest challenges

The UNDP is presently the only organisation able to transport construction materials into the Gaza Strip, and so "we are very optimistic that the project will be completed successfully", said Dr Loubani.

"We have been working for over a year to ensure that this project is a success, and our biggest obstacle now is funding the project so that we can start buying and installing the solar power modules."

The EmpowerGaza team are optimistic that the project will develop further over the next few years, as they envision extending their work to the remainder of the public hospitals in Gaza, a total of 14 facilities, serving nearly two million people. They are also hoping to expand the scope of the project so that it can cover more than essential services and further reduce the energy needs of hospitals.

Follow Raya al-Jadir on Twitter: @carelessrayoon