Slim hopes for $7.8bn Gaza rebuilding effort

Hopes of rebuilding tens of thousands of homes, plus schools and critical infrastructure in the Gaza Strip remain slim despite last week’s deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over reconstruction, a source close to the effort has told GCR. 

The Palestinian Authority has estimated that $7.8bn will be needed to restore Gaza to its former condition after the seven-week bombardment this year flattened approximately 18,000 homes, the territory’s only power station, factories, hospitals and an estimated 29km of water and sewage pipes.

The UN’s Middle East envoy told the Security Council last week that a deal had been reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, under which the UN would monitor the use of construction materials. 

An international conference to raise reconstruction funds for Gaza is to be held in Cairo on 12 October. 

But even if the money is pledged the hope of a meaningful reconstruction of the territory will be slim if recent history is anything to go by, a source close to the reconstruction effort told GCR.

The source said that billions were pledged in 2009 after the three-week Gaza War, but little of that found its way to actual improvements. "After what happened after Sharm El Sheikh in March 2009, it’s too early to say," the source said. "Then the world pledged $4.5bn but because the Israelis maintained the blockade the money was never given and nobody was ever hired."

Few countries have made public pledges so far. Saudi Arabia has announced a $500m donation, which is half of what it offered in 2009. 

The source added that restoring Gaza to its condition before the war would not be enough to ensure the physical wellbeing of the population.

500 children had been killed during the conflict, an average of 10 a day, and that 1,000 had been permanently disabled– Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of UNRWA

"Before the war, the water and sewage system in Gaza was wrecked. Ninety-five per cent of water was undrinkable and there were millions of litres of raw sewage flowing into the sea every day. We estimate that at least 29km of pipes were blown to pieces, both water and sewage, during the [2014] war. At the height of it UNWRA [the UN agency charged with looking after Palestinian refugees] had to truck in every litre of water for 290,000 people in more than 90 shelters."

In the course of the conflict, about 18,000 homes were razed by Israeli bombing, and a further 40,000 were extensively damaged. A number of factories, a large number of administrative buildings, schools and hospitals, and the territory’s only power station, were also damaged or destroyed.  

What’s happening now

The UN relief effort has asked for $1.1bn in emergency funds to deal with the immediate aftermath of the war. The UNWRA told GCR that $750m of that was to pay for a four-month strategic reconstruction period – to patch up homes that can be made habitable with temporary repairs, for instance. The money was also needed to pay for food for the 50,000 people who remain in UN shelters.

UNRWA is 97% reliant on voluntary contributions, half of which come from the US and the European Union. At present it has a deficit of $56m.

In the next two to three months 300 engineers working for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will be in the field inspecting 40,000 properties. In most cases the engineers are local people – Gaza has large number of qualified engineers and an unemployment rate of 40%.

On 16 September, a tranche of UNRWA projects were approved, including the reconstruction of 23 schools. (Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of UNRWA, opened the school year with a speech in the southern Gazan town of Khan Younis. He said 500 children had been killed during the conflict, an average of 10 a day, and that 1,000 had been permanently disabled.)

Critical infrastructure works were also approved, including seven sewage, drainage and water supply projects, these with a combined value of $48m. 

Another four with a value of $25m are still awaiting approval by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) – the unit in the Israeli defence ministry that administers the West Bank and Gaza. 

However UNRWA estimates that at least 900 trucks a day are required to make a meaningful effort, and says "nothing like that is occurring".

1.Destroyed ambulance in the city of Shijaiyah in south of the Gaza Strip (Source: Boris Niehaus/Wikimedia Commons)

UNWRA also said that reconstruction was made even more difficult by unexploded ordnance in or on the ground, or lodged in structures. The UN estimates that 80,000 explosive projectiles were fired into into Gaza during the assault and that, on average, 10% of those would not have exploded.

As yet, no firms have been appointed to undertake key reconstruction projects, such as the $250m reconstruction of the Gaza strip’s only power station, which was knocked out by two missiles. 

The source said that the reconstruction was only part of the problem. "At a bare minimum we need the blockade to be lifted," he said, "and that means exports and restoring freedom to trade to Gaza. Without it there will be another round of violence, and I’m not convinced that even when the Cairo conference happens there’ll be security guarantees that houses won’t be levelled again by the Israeli army." 

An additional problem is the uneasy relationship between the Fatah and Hamas elements in the National Consensus government. Up until now, the two sides have found it difficult to co-operate. Robert Turner, the director of UNRWA in Gaza, said: "In the broader issue of the blockade and the availability of construction materials and the willingness of donors to put in what is going to be billions of dollars of reconstruction fund required. A precondition of that is that the national consensus government is here and that they’re visibly in control and they’re governing."

Rami Hamdallahm, the prime minister of the Palestinian government, said in an interview with the Wall Steet Journal recently that problems with Hamas had only festered since the summer war with Israel.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said any trouble the Palestinian premier was having in running the government was due to his own inaction. He said donors shouldn’t be deterred from providing help to rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure.

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