THE needs resulting from the destruction caused by last summer's
war in Gaza are "phenomenal", and financial assistance alone will
not be enough to secure the future of the territory, Christian Aid
After a visit to Gaza, the head of Middle East at Christian Aid,
Janet Symes, said that "to actually be there and see what has
happened was shocking; whole neighbourhoods totally destroyed,
whole farms and farmland totally destroyed. The scale of
destruction is unprecedented."
There is an urgent need to find shelter for the estimated
108,000 homeless people before winter comes. Many of those who lost
their homes, Ms Symes says, "are living in buildings that are
partially destroyed. For example, you might find a whole family
living in one room, but that room might only have three walls. The
needs are phenomenal, and there's a great sense of
Christian Aid local partners are providing medical aid, clean
water, and food, as well as essentials such as cooking equipment,
to families made homeless, along with psychosocial support to
children and young people.
Christian Aid's conclusion is that the huge rebuilding programme
required will be effective only if it is carried out in tandem with
political steps to prevent another conflict. "We are impressing
upon people that there needs to be a commitment to a realistic
peace process," Ms Symes said. "We can't just keep rebuilding. A
clear indication of any future commitment would be an end to the
blockade on Gaza. This is a humanitarian crisis that can only be
solved by political engagement."
As well as buildings, large areas of farmland were destroyed in
the conflict, costing the country's agricultural and fisheries
sectors more than £61 million, a report published last month by the
UN Refugee and Works Agency suggests. This means that thousands of
families have lost their means of income.
Food insecurity levels were already at 57 per cent before the
hostilities, the report says, and are now even higher. Partners of
Christian Aid are helping farmers to rehabilitate land, and rebuild
animal shelters, greenhouses, and agricultural roads, besides
repairing the water and irrigation networks.
But, as farmers try to resume work after the war, it is clear,
Ms Symes says, that they are fearful of a resumption of
hostilities: "Farmers are changing their crops. The cultivation of
olive and fruit trees that take many years to mature is being
abandoned in favour of faster-yielding annual crops."
Without an end to the blockade of Gaza, an opportunity for the
private sector to invest there, and the start of a political
process, Gazans are bound to be nervous of the future. "While
generous funding pledges are hugely important for urgent
humanitarian relief and starting reconstruction, political will and
support for an end to the status quo will be critical in preventing
a continuation of the cycle of construction/destruction," says
Christian Aid's policy and advocacy officer, William Bell, who has
also just visited Gaza.
International donors meeting in Cairo on Sunday pledged £3.4
billion to the Palestinians, of which at least half will be
allocated to the rebuilding of Gaza. Of this total, the UK pledged
£3.2 million. The amount promised exceeds the £2.5 billion that
Palestinian leaders said was needed.
Qatar was the largest single donor: it made a pledge of £622
million. The country's Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al
Attiyah, criticised the "international silence" around the
destruction of Gaza. He also reiterated the urgency of political
action: "While the Palestinian people need financial support, they
need more political support from the international community. A
just peace is the only real guarantee for not destroying what we
are about to rebuild and reconstruct."
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, echoed the theme, saying:
"We must not lose sight of the root cause of the recent
hostilities: a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a
century . . . and the lack of tangible progress in peace
negotiations. I call on all parties to . . . chart a clear course
towards a just and final peace."