Reports published recently by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Israeli NGO B’Tselem and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) paint a grim picture of life in Gaza more than four months after the 23-day Israeli offensive ended on 18 January.
At the end of April 2009, UNRWA and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) completed their assessments of damage caused during the offensive: Some 3,500 houses were totally destroyed or are beyond repair and many others have yet to be repaired. Israel has not allowed cement and building materials into Gaza since June 2007.
Some IDPs are living with family members, while others live in the makeshift tent camps.
Cameras distributed by B’Tselem to internally displaced persons in the makeshift camp of Al-‘Azza, which was set up in the Gaza Strip immediately after the Israeli incursion, reveal harsh conditions. The testimonies have been compiled into a short film [see below]. Living on sand dunes in tents provided by international aid agencies, cooking on kerosene burners and using portable toilets, they report a feeling of despair and lack of safety.
To overcome the ban on imports of cement and water pipes, the ICRC is helping recycle local materials and using components manufactured in Gaza. The Rafah recycling plant needs to be repaired, it says.
To mitigate cement shortages, concrete segments of the old Rafah border wall, which lay abandoned after its partial demolition in January 2008, are being salvaged.
Pierre Wettach, ICRC’s head of delegation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, quoted in an ICRC update on 12 May, said: "The water and sanitation infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is in dire need of a comprehensive upgrade. Even if the existing infrastructure were operating at full capacity, it would not meet the needs of the population. To provide Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants with adequate facilities it is absolutely essential that materials such as cement, steel and water pipes be allowed in."
According to a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report on 15 May, raw sewage was back-flowing into homes in Khan Younis due to the deterioration of the sewage and waste-water treatment systems. During April, only three truckloads of plastic pipes for water and wastewater projects for the private sector were allowed into Gaza. There has been a ban on plastic pipe deliveries since late October 2008.
The Israeli Security Cabinet met on 24 May to discuss opening more crossings into Gaza and allowing a regular flow of medical supplies, food and a list of other commodities, including building materials, but no change in Israeli policy has been reported so far.