The housing crisis in the Gaza Strip is not going to be resolved any time soon: Only a small number of the 40,000 units needed to meet natural population growth and the destruction of homes in Israeli military operations are being built, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Israel restricts the import of building materials deemed to be of potential military benefit to Gaza’s Hamas government. A limited number of international, mainly-UN-backed, building projects are being allowed to go ahead, but the Israeli checking process is causing delays.
Israel’s spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT), Guy Inbar, told IRIN that COGAT reviews all international projects due to security concerns. "COGAT wants to have supervision that the projects are not being implemented near Hamas facilities, and to ensure that construction material goes only to the [Israeli-approved international] projects and not to Hamas."
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has only brought in a tiny fraction of the construction material needed – 3,291 trucks since June 2010 (under 4 percent of the agency’s overall US$660 million construction plan to rebuild homes and schools in the Gaza Strip over three years).
It had also planned to build 100 schools, a teacher training centre, 10,000 “shelters” and two healthcare centres. “The so-called `easing’ of the blockade has made almost no difference in the lives of real people,” said UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness in Jerusalem.
In June 2010, after several international activists died trying to end the blockade, Israel announced a package of measures to ease its blockade of the territory to provide relief to Gaza’s population, while protecting Israeli citizens from harm. However, basic construction material like cement, gravel and asphalt remained on specific lists of prohibited “dual-use” items.
And as if to emphasize its determination to maintain the blockade, on 19 July Israeli commandos intercepted and boarded an international protest boat trying to reach Gaza.
Some 73 reconstruction projects worth about 28 percent of the cost of UNRWA’s entire work plan for Gaza, have been approved by COGAT. Currently, UNRWA is entering about 240 trucks per week of aggregate and 90 trucks of other building materials. At this rate it will take a year to enter the supplies for the 73 approved projects, said Gunness.
Approved water and sanitation projects are also being delayed due to the lack of construction material.
As a result of the restrictions, there has been a significant increase in the amount of construction material entering Gaza via underground tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border over the past year. An estimated 98,000 tons of construction material was entering Gaza monthly, according to a March report by OCHA. A similar amount was also now entering via the Kerem Shalom crossing, OCHA reported in June.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the blockade “a collective punishment in clear violation of international humanitarian law”.
According to Israel, Gaza is no long occupied territory since it withdrew its forces in 2005, and the Hamas government in power is now responsible for the welfare of Gaza’s population.