By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - As Middle East summer temperatures soar above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), Gazans are struggling to stay cool amid a power crisis, with less than four hours of electricity a day and little chance to run fans and air-conditioners.
The power crisis is affecting health and sanitation - because sewage treatment plants can't run, raw sewage is pouring into the Mediterranean - and now the elderly and sick are desperately trying to handle the heat.
Plastic trays and scraps of cardboard are doubling as hand-held fans. Precious piped water is hosed over children and work animals. Those trying to sleep have abandoned clammy mattresses, preferring the relative cool of bare tiled floors.
Hoping to pressure the Islamist Hamas group to relinquish control of Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has reduced his administration's payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. That has left the 2 million Palestinians there with only a few hours of power a day.
Hospitals and other emergency facilities have made do with back-up generators. Few ordinary Palestinians have that option.
A family excursion to the beach that might elsewhere have been a delight was, for Sabah Joudah, a forced decision, especially when having to put up with the sewage problems.
"We came here to entertain the children, even though the sea is polluted," she told Reuters as the dirty surf lapped close by. "It is summer and there is no electricity; no water and no fans are working in our homes. It is very tough, very tough."
Environment officials say disruptions at sewage treatment facilities have meant more than 100,000 liters of untreated wastewater is discharged along the coast daily. Around 75 percent of the seawater is polluted.
Swimming there frequently leaves children with skin inflammations and abdominal complaints, parents say.
In the southern town of Khan Younis, a woman bathed her children in a bucket in the street, while a man doused his horse with water.
One Khan Younis couple, the Abu Mehsens, both suffer from high blood pressure and said they were so beleaguered by the heat that simply fanning themselves could be too much effort.
"When we get tired we rest for a bit before we start fanning again," Jihan Abu Mehsen said. "We do so all day long."
The situation has hurt Gaza's meager retail sector, with vendors saying that sales of electrical appliances have tanked. One exception has been cheap rechargeable fans, which can be stored, with full batteries, in anticipation of the power cuts.
"People have turned to alternative power, using batteries," said appliance salesman Mahmoud Abu Hamda. "Sometimes they use trays and sometimes even the covers of kettles instead of electric fans. This has impacted us very much."
(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Mark Heinrich)