Gaza: Electricity Supply Question Transcript - 19 April 2016
Question tabled by Lord Judd (19 April 2016)
Asked by Lord Judd
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what immediate consultations they are having with their European Union partners and at the United Nations about how to respond to the breakdown of electricity generating capacity in Gaza and its consequences for water distribution.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) (Con)
My Lords, we are concerned by the electricity shortage in Gaza and the serious impact it is having on the humanitarian situation. We are in regular dialogue with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and other development actors, specifically the EU and the UN, on the extension of the 161 power line and the conversion of the Gaza power station to gas. Close to £475,000 in DfID funding is being used to support planning for the Gaza desalination plant.
Lord Judd (Lab)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does she not agree that the people—the men, women and children—of Gaza have had enough? With this latest total breakdown in generating capacity, the water supply for drinking is at minimal, hazardous levels, and the water that is available is far from guaranteed to be pure. Does she also agree that we are in a situation where sewage is now just not being treated but is being pumped in increasing amounts into the sea—and that behind all this lies the complete failure within Gaza of an economy in any meaningful sense with which order can be established, services can be properly provided and the future can be carried forward? It is not just the humanitarian situation, which is bad enough. Surely this is a festering point for instability in the area and a playground for extremists, and it has implications way beyond Gaza itself.
My Lords, the noble Lord raises a series of very important points but ultimately, as he and other noble Lords will be aware, we need to encourage a two-state peace-process solution. That is what we, the UK Government, and others are encouraging. Ultimately, however, it is down to the two parties to make sure that they are fully engaged.
Baroness Deech (CB)
My Lords, does the Minister weary of the obsessive blaming of Israel for whatever goes wrong in Gaza and the surrounding area? The failure in electricity appears to be due to Hamas and the PA. If they cannot manage their own electricity and water, what hope is there to expect Hamas, Gaza and the West Bank to run an independent state of Palestine?
My Lords, the noble Baroness again raises an important point, but the really important point is that we must encourage that the sorts of activities that are taking place are stopped so that we can further encourage the dialogue that needs to take place to bring forward a two-state solution and make sure that Hamas and others do not violate the rights of those who are being badly affected.
Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
My Lords, the Minister has said that this is a humanitarian crisis. Some 1.8 million Gazans—more than 50% of whom are children—are subjected to a situation where they have no clean water. More than 90% of the water available to them is contaminated. This is not a political question, it is a humanitarian question. While those 1.8 million people are waiting for a two-state solution—on which Israel seems very reluctant to come to the table—children are being subjected to this cruelty. What pressure is being brought to bear to ensure that, in the year 2016, clean water is available to the people of Gaza?
My Lords, the UK Government, in dialogue with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, are working hard with other donors, the UN, the World Food Programme and others to ensure that access is available to the things that the noble Baroness mentioned. However, this is a protracted humanitarian crisis and we need to be firm in our resolve to encourage the two players to come to the table so that the absolutely necessary two-state solution can be reached.
Lord Popat (Con)
Is my noble friend aware that last month the Qataris offered to fully supply the power plant in Gaza, and that the Israelis accepted but President Abbas rejected? Is my noble friend in dialogue with her Palestinian counterpart on this very important issue?
My noble friend is right to raise the point about the pledges made at the Cairo conference by the Qataris and other donors to put money forward. We have succeeded in forwarding our pledge but we need to encourage all donors to fully disburse their pledges as well. I am not absolutely sure about my noble friend’s reference to the reports but I know that pledges have been made and we need to ensure that everyone comes to the table with them.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
My Lords, I was fortunate enough today to receive a letter from the Minister as a consequence of the recent debate of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on the Occupied Territories and, in particular, its water and electricity supply. Although I think everyone in the Chamber is committed to the peace process and the two-state solution, there is no reason, as my noble friend has indicated, why the two sides cannot talk about practical measures to deal with this matter. There have recently been discussions in Brussels in the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee. I wonder if the Minister can inform the House what progress has been made in ensuring that the Palestinians respond to offers and that the Israelis do so as well.
The noble Lord is right: while we are discussing and pushing forward the two-state solution we need also to address issues such as safe water in Gaza. Those conversations have been taking place. We are in regular contact with the Israeli authorities responsible for the civil administration of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and have lobbied them to address Gaza’s immediate, medium and long-term energy and clean water shortages and wastewater treatment. We need to make sure that we support them in that. The UK Government are also providing funding towards preparation of the documents needed for the Gaza desalination plant.