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Gaza: hope emerging despite urgent needs and uncertainty about future

25-01-2009 Operational Update

Just over a week after a ceasefire took effect, life is very slowly returning to normal despite the immense destruction and grief caused by three weeks of conflict. Gaza residents whose property was damaged are trying to repair it with whatever means are available.

© ICRC / Iyad Nasr 
Beit Lahiya, Gaza. Man leaves area with a bag containing all he managed to find where his house used to stand. 
© ICRC / Iyad Nasr 
Beit Lahiya, Gaza. This mountain of rubble used to be five residential buildings and a mosque. 
© ICRC / Iyad Nasr 
Beit Lahiya, Gaza. People collecting belongings amongst the rubble of their homes. 

There is more traffic in the streets, shops are open again (though the choice of goods on the shelves is quite limited), and farmers can be seen working the fields. Children are again attending schools that had been closed for a month. 

The level of destruction throughout Gaza has yet to be fully assessed. ICRC staff have conducted detailed assessments of the needs in many areas of Gaza City as well as in Khan Younis, Rafah and Khozaa in southern Gaza. According to preliminary findings, over 880 houses were fully destroyed and a further 650 partially destroyed in these areas.

" It's impressive to see how people are doing their best to cope with this difficult situation, " said Iyad Nasr, an ICRC spokesman in Gaza, who took part in several assessment missions. " They aren't sitting around waiting to be helped. They have been going back to the areas where they lived and worked before the war, trying to repair what can be repaired – houses, irrigation systems for their fields and so on. People are full of energy. Though they're fearful about what the future might bring, they still have hope that things will get better " .

Situation critical for thousands of people

In Jabalia, one of the worst-hit areas of Gaza, between one and two thousand families are living amid the debris of their houses, without electricity, a regular water supply or adequate sanitation facilities. " It was suggested to these people that they should move to UN shelters, but they want to stay where their homes were, " explained Ellen Verluyten, deputy head of the ICRC office in Gaza. " Emergency aid, such as plastic sheeting, tarpaulins, blankets and hygiene kits, can make their lives a little less difficult, but only in the short term. Construction materials are urgently needed to build permanent or at least temporary housing " .

There was another major concern, Ms Verluyten added – the very real risk posed by unexploded munitions, especially in the areas subjected to the most intense attacks. " These areas must be checked as soon as possible and immediate action taken to deal with any unexploded munitions. Until that happens, they remain a lethal danger for residents " . Two ICRC specialists are expected to arrive in Gaza on 26 January to gauge the extent of the problem.

The ICRC has also continued to assess damage to key infrastructure, such as the power grid and water-supply systems. While the main power lines in northern Gaza have been repaired, the low-voltage lines taking electricity directly to households are still not working in Jabalia, Zaytun and Sudania. This also affects water-distribution networks in those areas. The local electricity company says that the lines can be repaired within three weeks provided that the necessary parts and other supplies are made available. " The company has ordered what they need, " said Marek Komarzynski, an ICRC engineer. " It's essential now that it should be delivered from Israel to Gaza as soon as possible " .

ICRC action
  • On 24 January, staff from the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent Society distributed relief items to nearly 12,000 people in various places in Gaza, including Tal Al-Hawa, Al-Atatra, Tuffa, Zaytun, Shajayah and El Mugragah in the north, and Khan Younis, Rafah and Khozaa in the south. Since 19 January, aid has reached over 31,000 people.
  • A local company working under ICRC contract has repaired the water-treatment plant in Zaytun, which was seriously damaged during the hostilities.
  • The ICRC surgical team continues to support local medical personnel at Shifa Hospital. Surveys to gauge damage and needs have also been conducted in other medical facilities, such as Al-Quds, Al-Wafa, Al-Awda and Tel El Islam hospitals in the north and the European hospital in the south. The ICRC must now decide how best to support those facilities.
    For further information, please contact
      Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 82 or +41 79 217 32 80
      Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50
      Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)
      Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)
      Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)