20 Feb 2015

Trapped in rubble: Gaza’s housing crisis

More than 100,000 homes remain damaged or destroyed in Gaza six months after a conflict with Israel, as lack of funds and a blockade continue to hamper reconstruction.

Around 96,000 homes were destroyed in the bombardment, leaving tens of thousands of families struggling in the harsh winter without a home. And aid agencies say that number is set to increase due to dwindling relief and slow restoration.

Read more: Gaza's infrastructure - the cost of war with Israel

According to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, an UN-brokered deal between Israeli and Palestinian authorities – an agreement was reached to enable construction work “on a large scale” in the area.

However, it includes an arrangement that restricts the flow of “dual use” materials into Gaza, comprising of cement and other essential building materials, supplies that could be seized for military purposes by Hamas.

As a result, few homes have been rebuilt despite international pledges amounting to billions. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said they were forced to suspend its cash assistance programme at the end of January after running out of money.

Read: At Gaza mosque ruins with families living among debris

The agency claimed that to date, it had only received $135m (£87.8m) in pledges, leaving a shortfall of $585m (£380.6m), and the number provided to Palestinian refugee families to repair the homes was far less.

Aid agencies have subsequently found innovative ways to temporarily accommodate Gazans, as temperatures plummet in the strip.

Makeshift temporary homes made out of metal and wood have been created in a bid to evade Israeli restrictions on imports into the territory.

The Catholic Relief Services told Reuters that the agency had built 70 temporary homes in Khan Younis, a town in southern Gaza heavily damaged in the 50-day war, and has funding for 100 more. Forty families are reported to have moved so far, but remain in cramped conditions.

A UNRWA spokesman told Channel 4 News that some material was being allowed in to the territory, but it was still not enough. Christopher Gunness said: “We had to suspend the programme because we ran out of cash.

It’s not a proper home. UNRWA spokesman

“Children are dying of hypothermia despite the international community pledging $5.4bn.”

Mr Gunness said that aid agencies had repeatedly warned that funding had been wholly insufficient, adding that he had witnessed the death of two infants after the area was hit by severe winter storms last month. “The family had been rained on for some time.

“Four children, one was just 50 days old, died of hypothermia after living in the cold.”

Read: Gaza destruction revealed in UN satellite image

He said while wooden shelters could provide temporary relief, “it’s not a proper home”.

But the Israeli foreign ministry reported that the coordinator of a defence ministry unit had decided to promote further steps to assist the reconstruction of Gaza this week.

The ministry said that so far, over 62,000 tons of construction supplies have entered the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom Crossing. In a statement, it added: “43,000 Gaza residents have purchased materials for the reconstruction of their homes, a process which is ongoing.”


The director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, Robert Turner, however, criticised the lack of aid from the international community, saying it amounted to a “failure”.

“Cash assistance, that would allow families who lost everything to rent a place to live, or to repair their own home, has been suspended. Thousands of families are waiting, but we – UNRWA and UNDP – have no money,” he said.

The pace of reconstruction in Gaza remains slow. UN and Arab League

In a joint statement, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, said: “The pace of reconstruction in Gaza remains slow. It is crucial now to expand the scope of reconstruction efforts thus far to bring hope to the people of Gaza and ensure stability, based on international responsibility in reconstruction and lifting the siege.”