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Gaza Update:


December 2014
 
Three months on, vital reconstruction
 

has barely begun as winter arrives 
     
              
11 year old Manar and her friends at school in Gaza: "The damage scares me. The classes are overcrowded and the water leaks in when it rains. But I love my school."
INSIDE... The slow rate of reconstruction... "Half of my house is rubble, now it's flooded"... The struggle to keep farming... Latest data on exports from Gaza... Protection incidents since the ceasefire.... Other news this month... Contacts
Three months since the ceasefire, and nearly two months since the international community pledged $5.4 billion in aid, reconstruction of Gaza has barely begun and the Israeli blockade remains firmly in place.

The needs are greater than ever, yet even fewer construction materials are now entering Gaza than before the conflict.

Around 100,000 people - more than half of them children - are still displaced as their homes have been destroyed. Vital water and sanitation infrastructure, schools and health facilities also urgently need rebuilding. Such massive reconstruction will require hundreds of thousands of truckloads of essential materials as soon as possible. However, in November just 287 such truckloads entered Gaza. At this rate, reconstruction and development could take decades.

With winter setting in, the situation is becoming increasingly urgent. Homes, schools and shelters have already suffered severe flooding due to heavy rains, and this is expected to get worse this month. Many families are living in makeshift shelters with no heating or running water as temperatures drop. Most areas face power cuts of 12 hours a day.

"It is deplorable that such little progress has been made given the enormous scale of needs and massive destruction. People in Gaza are becoming increasingly and understandably frustrated at the lack of progress. The international community has repeatedly failed the people of Gaza; it must not fail them again at such a critical time." - Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam Regional Director.
A drop in the ocean: The ABC of construction materials

Three essential materials for reconstruction are aggregates, steel bars and cement - known as the "ABCs". The amount of ABCs entering Gaza in the three months since the ceasefire is less than a third of the amount that entered Gaza in the three months immediately before the conflict - and just over 4% of what used to enter Gaza before the blockade.

  • Before the blockade was imposed around 1.2 million tonnes of essential ABC construction materials entered Gaza every three months.
  • In the three months before the recent conflict, 178,281 tonnes of ABCs entered Gaza (84,406 tonnes for humanitarian projects, 187 tonnes for the private sector, and 93,688 tonnes for Qatari-funded infrastructure projects).
  • In the three months since the ceasefire, 52,351 tonnes of ABCs entered Gaza (47,920 tonnes for humanitarian projects, 4,431 tonnes for the private sector, and 0 tonnes for Qatari-funded infrastructure projects).
Oxfam partner Gisha estimates that around 5 million tonnes of construction materials are required just for the most immediate needs. With 52,351 tonnes - or 1% - entering since the ceasefire, at this rate it would take more than 23 years to meet "immediate" needs alone. 

However, there are huge long-term needs: After years of restrictions on development and successive conflicts, the UN reports that Gaza needs at least 89,000 new homes, 226 new schools, as well as massive repairs to other infrastructure. It is estimated that more than 700,000 truckloads of ABCs will be required to meet Gaza's housing needs alone - not including the other essentials.

In November, 287 truckloads of ABCs entered Gaza - 244 for humanitarian projects and 43 for the private sector. Construction material for the private sector continues to be in extremely short supply and families in Gaza report the price of materials they need to rebuild their homes and livelihoods has risen up to seven times the usual amount. A further 481 truckloads of base coarse and bitumen entered Gaza for Qatari-funded infrastructure projects in November, but these do not include any essential ABC materials. 

A new Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) was announced in September. However, this has had little or no positive impact on people's lives so far. Even if the GRM becomes fully functional it will not be enough to meet the huge needs of people in Gaza. Donors and the international community must not allow the GRM to be a substitute for an end to the blockade.

Sources: PalTrade, Gaza Shelter Cluster, UN
Flooding hit Gaza in late-November. More severe floods are expected this month. Oxfam is running a "cash for work" project employing people to clear storm drains to try and reduce flooding.
"Half of my house is rubble. Now it's flooded"

While thousands of homes were completely destroyed by bombing, tens of thousands more were badly damaged and left without walls, windows or roofs. Families like Moeen's have no choice but to return to their home - half of which is now rubble and the other half has holes and cracks in the walls.

“It rained for two days and the rainwater has already started to leak through the cracks. We wonder what will happen when we have more rain in the coming weeks?” says Moeen.  

Moeen’s wife, Um Ahmed, says, "My grand children don’t feel safe. They look at the cracks in the walls and keep asking me why we have to stay in this house - it is about to fall on us."

Moeen used to make a living as a construction worker, but lost his job after the blockade was imposed - like tens of thousands of workers in Gaza's once thriving construction industry. He has been receiving emergency food vouchers from Oxfam to help the family buy essential supplies, but they cannot afford to buy or even rent another home.

"I've heard of the reconstruction plan but there are no indications that it will happen soon. I am afraid that my grandsons will grow up between these cracked walls and sloping roof," Um Ahmed says.
A family struggles to keep farming

Abdelrahman and Naji Wahdan are two brothers who were born to be farmers - it's the only thing they know and love, and their main source of income. Today their livelihood is gone. During the recent conflict 250 of their beehives were destroyed and 100 of their sheep were killed. Their home was also bombed. "This is the fifth time my land has been destroyed," says Abdelrahman.

This summer's conflict was just the latest threat to their livelihood. Their land is in the "Access Restricted Area" near the edge of the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army places severe restrictions on movement. Farmers have frequently been shot at while working here. A few years ago they rented another piece of land, but the blockade means most farmers in Gaza are unable to sell their fruits and vegetables in markets outside Gaza - including in Palestinian markets in the West Bank.

"After seven years of blockade and three wars, I don’t know whether I still have the strength to continue,” he says. "We are frustrated and worried. There is no indication that the blockade will end soon and the war will not come again."

Oxfam and our local partner, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), are working to help farmers rehabilitate their land and access vital irrigation, seedlings and fertilisers.
Abdelrahman and Naji Wahdan at the remains of their farm.
Under the blockade, exports from Gaza have fallen to around 2% of pre-blockade levels, with devastating impact on the economy. While some extremely limited exports to international markets have been approved, the transfer of produce to Palestinian markets in the West Bank - and markets in Israel - has been banned since 2007. These were traditionally the most important markets for producers in Gaza. 
  • In the first half of 2007 - before the blockade was imposed - an average of 850 trucks exited Gaza for sale every month. So far in 2014 (up to the end of November) only 141 trucks have exited Gaza - fewer than 13 a month.
  • In October, the government of Israel announced approval for goods from Gaza to be sold in the West Bank for the first time since 2007. According to PalTrade, during November 53 trucks exited Gaza - five trucks of tomatoes for international export and 48 trucks of produce for sale in the West Bank. Most of these contained vegetables (36 trucks including cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and cabbages), as well as fruits (five trucks of dates and strawberries), fish (4), furniture (2) and clothes (1).
  • On 23 November Gisha reported that 10 trucks carrying 170 tonnes of vegetables for sale in the West Bank and Saudi Arabia were unable to exit Gaza.
While the government of Israel's announcement is a positive step, if it is to have a significant impact on the livelihoods of producers in Gaza they will need to have full and consistent access to Palestinian markets in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to markets inside Israel.

Sources: PalTrade, OCHA

*Includes test rockets fired within Gaza

Reporting period up to end-November:
  • Overall the security situation has remained relatively calm since the ceasefire. However, during November one Palestinian was killed and 10 injured (including two children) by Israeli fire. No Israeli injuries were reported in this period.
  • There has been frequent naval fire against Gaza fishermen, who continue to face significant restrictions on their livelihoods. Since the ceasefire, Gaza fishermen are restricted to six nautical miles (NM) from the coast (the same limit that has been in place for most of the period under blockade, although the limit has at times dropped to three NM). Several fishermen have reportedly been injured and several boats damaged. They are frequently shot at or arrested just inside the six NM limit.
  • The government of Israel continues to enforce the "Access Restricted Areas" (ARA) - land up to approximately 300 metres inside Gaza where Palestinian movement is severely restricted. The exact limit has not been formally announced, leading to uncertainty and further risks for Palestinians in these areas. The ARA includes some of Gaza's most fertile farmland - several people have been shot at or injured while working the land. A man was shot and killed on 23 November while reportedly hunting birds 100 metres from the perimeter with Israel. Others have been injured in these areas while protesting against Israeli restrictions or throwing stones, and several have been injured while trying to cross into Israel in search of work.
Sources: GANSO, OCHA
  • Long-term ceasefire negotiations that were scheduled to take place by the end of October have not yet happened, and there is so far no indication if or when these will resume. Oxfam remains extremely concerned that conflict will continue to reoccur unless long-standing issues are addressed.
  • After recent security threats in the Sinai, the Egyptian government closed the Rafah crossing for almost all of November - reportedly the longest period of full closure since 2008 - preventing people from crossing in and out of Gaza. It partially reopened for three days to allow people into Gaza, but shut again in early December. Around 10,000 people are waiting to leave Gaza, including medical patients. Egypt has also expanded the "buffer zone" to 1km on the Egyptian side of the Gaza border.
  • Thousands of Hamas-appointed civil servants in Gaza continue to go without salary payments due to a dispute within the National Unity Government, pushing many families further into poverty.
  • The Gaza Power Plant - which was heavily bombed during the conflict - resumed some operations in mid-November, reducing power cuts in most areas from 18 hours a day to 12 hours a day. It is currently operating at about half capacity.
  • The conflict left thousands of unexploded remnants of war and between two and four million tonnes of rubble in Gaza, but so far there has been little progress in clearing these away - creating further challenges for people to rebuild their lives.
Alun McDonaldalun.mcdonald@oxfamnovib.nl / +972 546 395 002

Arwa Mhanna / amhanna@oxfam.org.uk / +972 592 992 208
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Gisha - Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement
OCHA - United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
PCHR - Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Al Mezan - Centre for Human Rights
Gaza Shelter Cluster
UNRWA - United Nations Refugees and Works Agency
GANSO - NGO Safety Office in Gaza
PalTrade - Palestinian Trade Centre

 

This update is compiled by Oxfam from the best available information drawn from reliable sources. Some of the information is preliminary and may be updated in subsequent reports.