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Who will light the road to Rafah?

Despite Salah al-Din Road in the Gaza Strip having already claimed the lives of many, no agency has stepped forward to foot the high electricity bill to make the road safer.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Salah al-Din Road connects the Gaza Strip's municipalities, extending over roughly 46 kilometers, from the far north of the Gaza Strip, in Beit Hanoun, to Rafah city in the far south. In 2013, four phases were set for the development of the road with the support and financing of the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza.

While three of the phases have now been completed, the road still lacks lighting, and citizens and drivers fear Salah al-Din Road has become lethal.

What hinders the illumination of the road is the electricity crisis plaguing Gaza and the failure of the various government bodies and municipalities to pay the electricity bills. Lighting poles have been installed along the road, but they remain unlit.

Hamid Alwan, from the city of Khan Yunis, drives a Skoda. He told Al-Monitor, “Drivers do not know how to drive on this road, as a new geometric design has been created that they have not seen before; there is a slow lane for those driving to side cities and a fast lane for those driving straight through Gaza. This requires a great deal of concentration. The situation gets more dangerous as the night falls given the lack of lighting. All we have is car lights, but these provide poor vision, which is why accidents happen frequently.”

Ahmed Othmani told Al-Monitor that he drives his Mercedes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to avoid driving in the dark when many accidents on the new road happen.

Most of those interviewed told Al-Monitor that Salah al-Din Road has turned into a lethal road, especially at night when there is no lighting. A common complaint voiced was that people are at risk of being run over due to the lack of lighting, and accidents are frequent because of the drivers' excessive speed and because there are no police officers on the road.

Statistics of the traffic and rescue police in the Gaza Strip report that “1,500 traffic accidents have taken place since the beginning of 2016. These have led to 33 deaths and 693 moderate and serious injuries, most of which occurred on the new Salah al-Din Road, specifically on the municipalities' intersections and entrances.”

Youssef al-Ghareez, the adviser to the chairman of the National Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor that his committee is almost done expanding the road, and that it has installed all the lighting poles based on specific technical and engineering specifications and at a height where they can light the entire road. He called on the competent authorities at the Ministry of Works and Housing, the local governance and the municipalities — each within their geographical zones that overlook the road — to “swiftly light the road in a bid to reduce the number of traffic accidents occurring on many stretches of the road."

Hassan Akasha, the general director of Traffic Engineering and Safety at the Ministry of Transportation, told Al-Monitor, “The main cause of road accidents on Salah al-Din Road stems from the new model that was devised to design the road, as it encourages drivers who are inexperienced in driving on such roads to use excessive speed. Besides, the road becomes very dangerous at night with a complete lack of lighting.”

Akasha asked, “Why hasn’t this vital main road been lit until today? Why haven’t the specialized authorities fulfilled their duty to light it to reduce the risk of death?”

The head of the Nuseirat municipality, Mohammad Abu Shakyan, told Al-Monitor, “Salah al-Din Road is a main regional and state highway. Its problem is that the municipalities cannot afford its operational needs and expenses. It should have a special state budget or the supporting committee should vow to provide it with lighting, development and maintenance services.”

Deputy Undersecretary of the Ministry of Local Government Zuhdi al-Ghureiz told Al-Monitor, “The problem lies in the lack of sufficient power supply in the Gaza Strip to light this road, which requires a large power supply. Moreover, the power rationing hours that amount to eight hours affect the road's lighting. The problem cannot be resolved.”

Ghureiz said, “It is a regional road, and the government and Ministry of Finance must handle the expenses of lighting it or order the municipalities to settle that bill — each according to their specific areas. They should expedite the process to protect people’s lives.”

He added, “We can also devise a strategic plan to make it a national project to light the road with solar power and guarantee a 24-hour supply. The cost would not exceed $2 million for five years and is much less than the cost of diesel that the power company needs to light the road with electrical power.”

The power distribution company in Gaza’s municipalities has no problem in supplying the road lighting poles with power, but Aouni Naim, the director general of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, told Al-Monitor that there is no lighting because “no official party in Gaza declared readiness to pay the electricity bill. We are ready to light this road if an official party submits a request of ownership, provided it pays the monthly power bill.”

He added, “The road extends to all the municipalities in Gaza, and it is possible for all the municipalities to share the bill. Each can settle part of the dues, according to their areas, and help ease the exorbitant bill.”

So far, there hasn’t been an agreement on a party to settle the electricity bills, or on a national project to light the road with solar power. Until that happens, the new Salah al-Din Road in the Gaza Strip, now known as the "lethal road,” will keep claiming citizens’ lives.

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