Donkey carts replace garbage trucks in fuel-starved Gaza

An acute fuel shortage has left much of Gaza's garbage truck fleet idle, one of many ways that Gaza's political crisis is weighing on daily life.

Adel Hana/AP
A rainbow shines over buildings after heavy rain poured in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

I’ve grown used to the morning honking of the garbage truck since moving to my new Gaza City apartment three years ago.

But there has been no noise since Sunday.

The municipality has replaced its fleet of trucks with donkey carts because of an acute fuel shortage. It’s just one of many ways the living conditions here have deteriorated as the Hamas government find itself squeezed between its Palestinian rival, Fatah; Egypt’s new secular rulers; and Israel.

Earlier this week, I welcomed the new garbage collector from my balcony and went down to chat with him.

Abu Sabri, a father of five, said he had used his cart to transport vegetables and goods to the Old Market in Gaza City since 2009. But business in Gaza has been badly affected by the recent shut down of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, which were used to bring in all kinds of goods, from cars to Kentucky Fried Chicken orders, since Israel tightened restrictions on which goods could be trucked in.

"One man's poison is another man's meat," Abu Sabri said, smiling, when I asked him how he managed to find the job.

Abu Sabri said the municipality had had to hire donkey carts to collect garbage from the streets after 70 percent of garbage trucks became idle due to the lack of fuel and the municipality’s inability to pay for expensive fuel coming from Israel. 

Abu Sabri says he get $300 per month for the job he does for three hours, six days a week. 

"Getting a fixed salary is much better than working in the market. Sometimes I make good money at the market, but most of the time I barely make some money enough to bring food to my kids," he told me as he threw plastic bags full of garbage on the cart.

Like every Gazan, Abu Sabri is sick of the unbearable living conditions. His home was flooded by sewage a few days ago, when the main Gaza City sewage plant stopped due to the fuel shortage, and he buys clothes for his kids from the junkyard. “I’m leading a second-hand life,” he says.

Actually Abu Sabri might be much better off than thousands of Gazans. At least he has a permanent job, especially after the municipality promised him – along with more than 250 other owners of donkey carts – that it will keep them employed even after the trucks get back to work.

But frustration in the war-torn Gaza is easily seen on the faces of the residents. It's not an easy life to live in a place with only six hours of electricity a day, no jobs, and almost no freedom of movement.

The political conflict between Hamas and its foes – Israel, the Palestinian government in Ramallah, and the new Egyptian regime – has negatively affected everyday life here.

The people of Gaza are paying the price of a political game and they are the only loser.

Abu Sabri wishes he could just leave Gaza and settle in a better country. "But I'm an uneducated person who does not master any craft."

But for now, he is at least helping to keep my neighborhood clean.

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