Gaza’s new battle for water, power and shelter
Palestinian children walk through the rubble as they return home after a 72-hour "humanitarian" ceasefire was announced, Aug 5, 2014 (File/AFP)
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It’s a paradoxical measure of the humanitarian crisis engulfing Gaza that because severe water shortages have reduced consumption by many residents to well below international emergency standards, Mr Shublak estimates that actual sewage flowing from Sheikh Ejlin will in turn be much less than the normal 40 million litres a day.
For the halt to waste treatment is only part of a much wider water and sewage problem. Oxfam said last night that the destruction by bombing of wells, pipelines, and reservoirs, caused contamination of scarce fresh water with sewage and that 15,000 tons of solid waste had seeped into Gaza streets. “We’re working in an environment with a completely destroyed water infrastructure that prevents people in Gaza from cooking, flushing toilets or washing [their] hands,” the agency said,
And that in turn is only one element of the infrastructural damage inflicted on Gaza by four weeks of war, much of which UN, aid agencies and local utilities had their first real chance to assess yesterday, the quietest since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began on July 8. Frode Mauring, the UN Development Programme’s special representative said that with 16-18,000 homes totally destroyed and another 30,000 partially damaged, and 400,000 internally displaced people “the current situation for Gaza is devastating”.
As the agency began its assessment of the massive reconstruction needed in Gaza, Mr Mauring added that since Spring 2013 no new UNDP project in Gaza had been approved by Israel, which banned the importation of construction materials after the discovery of a tunnel under the border.
“We cannot have a situation in which it takes 20 months to get approvals from COGAT [the Israeli military's civil affairs wing] to do construction,” he said. “The status quo is not a viable option.”
Mr Mauring said that the bombing of Gaza’s only power station and the collapse at least six of the 10 power lines from Israel, had “huge development and humanitarian consequences”. Majdi Yaghi, head of distribution for the Palestinian electric company said that the power station could take six months to a year to repair but this depended on Israel allowing the importation of construction materials.
Electricity officials complain that their maintenance engineers have been shot at when they seek to repair lines, even after co-ordination with the Israeli military.
Trond Munby, of the UNDP’s Gaza office, said in his experience of war zones this was the worst for attacks on public servants doing their job. There are also worries among some aid agencies about the willingness of donors to fund rebuilding of installations which may be attacked again by Israel in future.
Mr Mauring acknowledged that a bridge at Wadi Gaza in the central Strip, destroyed during Israel’s 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, had still not been rebuilt.
But he was forthright in also calling for Israel to lift its bans on the exports on which Gaza’s economy depended, pointing out that jobs and economic security reduced extremism. “You don’t have to be an economist to realise that people are going to be reluctant to invest in a place which cannot trade,” he said.
UN officials strongly reject Israeli suggestions that cement imported for international construction projects was used by Hamas for military tunnel building, pointing out that while such imports were exhaustively monitored, cement and other materials were freely available through the smuggling tunnels from Egypt.
By Donald Macintyre