Gaza is Barely Holding Together

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The United Nations predicts that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020. The study estimates the population of 1.6 million will expand to more than two million, requiring a hefty increase in basic services. But, Gaza has barely recovered from the 2014 war, the third in five years.

Some 75,000 Palestinians are still homeless two years after the last war ended. Shelters have been built but not enough. Qatar financed a public housing project but that only added 1,000 units. The slow pace of reconstruction is due in large part to the lack of cement and building materials. Israel still imposes heavy restrictions on the entry of materials that could be considered dual purpose – for building tunnels. And, the cement that does get into Gaza is too costly for most families. One ton of cement that used to cost $175 now costs $475. For a while a successful alternative building material was wood, but that too has been added to the list of restricted items.

Today, Gazans suffer enormously from power shortages. Families get four hours or less of electricity a day but when it comes on is anyone’s guess. That makes it hard to get enough water pumped up to the roof-top storage tanks, or to cook and clean and wash clothes. Most families live in high-rise apartment buildings, which means getting to and from home can often be a physical hardship.

Families who do have a generator can usually only afford six hours of power because of the exorbitant price of fuel. Many families have reverted to battery-operated flashlights or candles. But candle light can be dangerous. Three children were killed this month in a fire caused by candles.

Without regular power supplies, getting clean water is a problem too. When it does arrive in the home, it’s fit only for cleaning. That necessitates buying bottled water, which adds to a family’s financial burdens. Anera, for one, has been working on restoring bombed-out water lines and reconnecting water and sewage networks. Yet, after a year and a half, only one-third of the system has been repaired. Gaza’s healthcare system is suffering too. Hospitals and clinics are stretched beyond their capacity. Medicines are in short supply; health workers say about one-third of essential medicines needed for surgery are out of stock. Only about half of the supplies that once came from the West Bank are now entering into Gaza because of the ministry’s financial shortfalls.

Gazans are also suffering food shortages. Farmers still have not fully recovered lands that were destroyed when tanks uprooted fields and damaged wells. They can’t afford expensive equipment to grade the land. Land restoration programs have helped revitalize some farms in the Khan Younis and Beit Hanoun areas but that amounts to only about 30 percent of the farms. Production is still low.

The video below shows how one Gaza farmer in Khan Younis reclaimed his lands destroyed in the war, and can now bring food and income to his growing family.  He’s one of 120 farmers that Anera has helped to restore farmland.

Farmers also have not been able to replenish their poultry and cows that were killed during the war. With borders and tunnels to Egypt closed down, cheap food and other products are absent from the market shelves. Most families now say they only eat meat two or three times a month.

One bright spot is the fishing industry, which appears to be functioning. There is more fish in the market at moderate prices so families can at least get some protein in their diet.

Another challenge to putting healthy food on the family dinner table is the soaring unemployment. Nearly half of Gaza’s workforce is out of a job. With farms and factories damaged or destroyed, there’s no work to be had. In the past, nongovernment organizations like Anera and others could provide project work but the decrease in funding support has cut down on the number of programs in Gaza that could offer work opportunities.

Experts estimate it will take another 15 years to repair and restore Gaza to its prewar conditions. Forecasts for the future are clouded by despair and frustration. As foreign funding diminishes, fears grow that Gaza will unravel. “De-development” is the catchword. As much as we can do to help, foreign assistance is only just holding Gaza together but nobody knows for how long.

Yes, the United Nations has predicted that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020. But they are wrong. It is unlivable right now.

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