In response to a growing housing crisis in the Gaza Strip in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), several new building projects have been initiated by the Hamas-led government, and thousands of families have begun purchasing properties in new communities, officials say.
In Khan Younis, a project is under way on a 517,000 square-metre site which will include apartment and office buildings, schools, clinics, mosques and a commercial centre.
Housing ministry official Nagi Sarhan says the site, which will include 98 residential plots, will be able to accommodate just over 30,000 people. Public facilities and infrastructure – water, sanitation and electricity networks – will be built by the municipality.
The project began in October 2010, with a budget of US$86,000 funded by the Gaza government. Families, cooperative housing associations and investors have begun purchasing property in the new community which will include a sports club, public parks, and a civil defence and transportation centre.
Import of construction material and equipment for private sector building is still restricted under Israel’s strict blockade on Gaza, tightened in 2007 after Hamas seized power. Some material is allowed to enter for approved projects implemented by international NGOs and UN agencies.
However, an increased flow of construction material entering Gaza via underground tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border has decreased the price of material and allowed some rebuilding to begin, although the cost of material is still high for the average Gazan (38 percent of Gazans live in poverty, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – OCHA).
The Hamas-led government – still branded a “terrorist” organization by most Western countries and largely isolated from the international community – has struggled to muster funding to rebuild homes and other buildings destroyed during Israel’s 23-day Operation Caste Lead ending January 2009.
Nearly 6,300 homes were damaged or destroyed during the Operation, according to OCHA.
Thousands of families have been forced to wait years to rebuild, often living in sub-standard conditions. Meanwhile, housing needs have been compounded by population growth and the thousands of other homes destroyed in previous military operations, reports OCHA.
Another large-scale community development project, called Al-Boraq, is also under way in Khan Younis. New homes, schools, mosques, commercial properties, and access roads to neighbouring areas are envisaged. The project includes 1,000 plots, each 250 square metres and costing US$25,000, said Suleiman Abu Kaide, lead engineer from the ministry on the site; 360 plots have been completed and purchased.
Urban planning schemes are desperately needed in Gaza, where 1.6 million Palestinians live in just 365sqkm.
Jordanian and Palestinian contractors are holding a conference in Amman this week, hoping to generate reconstruction and investment in oPt, focusing on Gaza. Representatives from the Arab League, Islamic Development Bank, NGOs, the European Union and UN agencies are expected to attend.
Gaza public works officials are also in Amman to attend the conference, sponsored by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank put forward a recovery and reconstruction plan for Gaza at the Sharm El-Sheikh donor’s conference in March 2009. Over $1.3 billion was pledged by donors to support the plan, but none of the funds have ever reached Gaza, said deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad – “possibly since the Arab League and Arab donors as governments do not want to deal with Hamas. Funding before reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas will be difficult.”
Spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Chris Gunness said that at the end of September less than $200 million of the agency’s total $661 million three-year reconstruction plan for Gaza had been approved by the Israeli authorities.
UNRWA has been able to enter construction material to complete only about $18 million worth of approved projects in Gaza, he said, including 151 homes, five schools and two medical centres destroyed during Operation Caste Lead. “This illustrates the small amount of work UNRWA has been able to complete,” he added.