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After truce, Gaza faces new challenges

05 September 2014

REUTERS

Leaning tower: Palestinians walk beneath a collapsed minaret as they leave Friday prayers at the remains of a mosque in Gaza City, last week

Leaning tower: Palestinians walk beneath a collapsed minaret as they leave Friday prayers at the remains of a mosque in Gaza City, last week

RELIEF that the latest truce in Gaza appears to be holding is matched by the growing realisation that tending to the bereaved, injured, and homeless, and rebuilding homes and infrastructure, still represents huge challenges.

About 2100 Palestinians were killed in the latest conflict, including at least 1400 civilians, of whom 490 were children. Israeli casualties stand at 67 killed, including 64 soldiers.

Some 10,200 Palestinians have been injured, about half of them women and children. In addition to the human cost, 16 hospitals, 45 clinics, and 137 schools were damaged.

A statement from al-Ahli Hospital, Gaza, at the weekend, said that there was a "great need to provide hygiene and cleaning kits for displaced families". Then there was the question of psychosocial care that hundreds of people would require - plus the need to hire new staff for at least a one-year period, to help cope with all the extra services. Al-Ahli desperately needs more funding to meet these challenges (www.j-diocese.org).

Although thousands of Palestinians have left temporary shelters, many will have to wait years before they can live in permanent accommodation. Shelter Cluster, an international organisation, reports that it will take 20 years to rebuild the housing stock in the Gaza Strip.

Some estimates put the cost of rebuilding Gaza at about £6 billion.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that Egypt and Norway have "raised the possibility of convening a Gaza donors' conference at some point next month, but no firm arrangements have been made".

 

Efforts to re-establish anything like normal life are also being hindered by severe water and electricity shortages. OCHA reports that public services in Gaza were already over-stretched before the fighting began, and were then "placed under extreme strain during the conflict. Water and electricity networks were damaged, and Gaza's only power plant shut down after an Israeli airstrike on 29 July. Necessary repairs and maintenance could not take place during hostilities."

At least 14 Palestinians working in the basic-services sector were killed in Israeli attacks. Now, with repairs under way, power cuts still continue for 18 hours a day on average.

Employment, scarce for many years, has been further hit by the recent violence. A Christian Aid partner in Gaza, the Agricultural Development Association, estimates that the conflict has cost the agricultural and fisheries sectors about £60 million, resulting in more than 8700 families' losing their means of income.

The Association believes that 3670 acres of land used for fruit and vegetable production have been damaged or destroyed, and farmers have lost more than 316,000 head of livestock. The programme officer at Christian Aid, Madeleine McGivern, said that there was an urgent need to help Gazans "build back their livelihoods, and earn money to feed their families. . . They need their land and boats repaired as quickly as possible" (www.christianaid.org.uk).

The response in the UK to Christian Aid's Gaza Crisis appeal, launched more than a month ago, has topped £1 million. The organisation's programme man-ager, Hanan Elmasu, said that the "generosity of the British public" had enabled Christian Aid part- ners to provide urgent health- care to more than 18,000 people; clean water to 128,000; and food to 4600.

"The destruction and devastation witnessed in the past seven weeks has been unprecedented," Ms Elmasu said, and "unparalleled support" would be required "to rebuild lives free from fear and violence".

Gratitude to those who had supported the Palestinians of Gaza in prayer during the recent fighting was expressed by the Roman Catholic parish priest of Gaza, Fr Jorge Hernandez, after a meeting last Friday with Pope Francis.

Fr Hernandez said that his parishioners were aware, during their services, that prayers were being said for them: "I want to take this opportunity to say thank you, and God bless you."

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