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Calls for urgent aid for Gaza and a long-term solution

17 October 2014

CHRISTIAN AID/HEIDI LEVINE

"Unprecedented destruction": destroyed homes in the war-stricken Sha'af neighbourhood of Gaza City

"Unprecedented destruction": destroyed homes in the war-stricken Sha'af neighbourhood of Gaza City

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 has said.

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 hopelessness."

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."

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