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Julie Webb-Pullman: The Reconstruction of Gaza

The Reconstruction of Gaza: An tale of recycling, initiative - and an international challenge


By Julie Webb-Pullman


Click to enlarge

Buildings to feed the people of Gaza are unable to be returned to productivity because building materials and agricultural supplies are not permitted to enter Gaza. - Image Julie Webb Pullman

Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 Israeli military forces conducted land, sea and air bombardments of the Gaza strip, resulting in massive destruction of all aspects of life.

In addition to the loss of over 1,400 lives - the majority children - 3,500 housing units were destroyed leaving 16,500 people homeless. Over 100 government buildings and facilities, including the house of parliament, most ministries, sports facilities and nine schools, as well as roads, the airport and port facilities, and 152 mosques, were either destroyed or badly damaged. Water mains and sewage systems also suffered extensive damage.

Any other city or country suffering such devastation is generally the immediate recipient of international aid from national governments, charities and national and international NGOs alike. These bodies provide immediate humanitarian assistance, usually followed up with help to rebuild their shattered lives.

Post-earthquake Christchurch is a classic example, where affected persons received immediate assistance for their daily needs, followed up with longer-term strategic planning, funding, and access to materials to repair or replace destroyed and damaged homes and buildings.

Gazans have not been so fortunate. Even where national and international agencies and bodies have been willing and able to assist with reconstruction, Israel’s siege of Gaza includes preventing building materials entering, thus essential supplies are either not available at all, or must be bought from Israel at grossly inflated prices. This puts rebuilding out of reach of most of the population, who through the destruction of their farmlands, businesses, and livelihoods, are mostly unemployed.

Thus two years on, thousands of Gazans still live in make-shift shelters (see Photo Essay From Gaza). They have not, however, been idle. Most of the rubble from destroyed buildings has been crushed, and used to make new roads to replace some of the 100+ plus kilometers destroyed in the Israeli attacks, or used with salvaged and straightened reinforcing steel to build door and window lintels for rebuilt houses.

The Gaza Ministry of Public Housing and Works (MPHW) has also not been idle, and consulted widely and investigated several housing alternatives both public and private, from mud-brick technology (unable to withstand bombs and earthquakes, not enough mud/use of mud would affect agricultural production, can’t be extended vertically or horizontally), to state provision of apartments (not enough exist, unable to construct more because of the blockade) or caravans (unable to purchase because of blockade), and ‘private’ alternatives, such as compensating home-owners (building materials not available at reasonable prices, temptation to use funds for other necessities).

Some of the challenges to their imaginations, initiative, skills and resources are the settlement and stabilisation of soil on which to build foundations for new or repaired buildings, the use of glass, and the need to provide safe havens in all residential units.

One promising approach has already been identified – core-unit construction. Although these units would be smaller than the destroyed buildings (on average 80m2 instead of 110m2) they have several appealing features:

  • A core unit can be an integral part of the horizontal building plan, which can be extended both vertically and horizontally.

  • Owners don’t need to leave their units during expansion.

  • The construction of core units is not difficult and doesn’t require extensive equipment.

  • Many of the required materials are available in the local market, such as wood, aluminum, plumbing materials, electricity supplies etc.

  • Crushed rubble and steel from demolished units can be used in the core units.

  • Owners of the demolished units accept this style of building.


Of course, this still requires the lifting of the blockade to get the remaining necessary building materials into Gaza, as well as considerable international assistance to raise the 800 million dollars necessary to reconstruct the housing and government buildings alone – not to mention the assistance from international construction companies to get this work done.

And it is only one possibility. The Gaza authorities recognize that there may well be many more out there, and have made it clear they welcome outside input.

Several national and international bodies have combined to host an International Forum for Gaza Reconstruction, to be held in Gaza 16-17 January 2011. These include the Ministry of National Economy, Gaza University’s Faculty of Engineering, the Palestinian Contractors’ Union, the Arab and International Commission to Build Gaza, the Association of Engineers, and other relevant organizations.

The forum will provide an opportunity for a range of national and international players to present practical proposals for one of the largest reconstruction efforts in modern history. Such a forum has relevance for many countries, including New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

Forum themes include not only engineering-type issues such as damage assessment and reconstruction prioritizing and co-ordination, but also humanitarian and human rights aspects, the role of NGOs and international organizations, and funding issues such as donors, the role of banks, loan funds and the private sector, and donor co-ordination. This represents an enormous international challenge on several levels.

Are New Zealand engineers, construction companies, financial institutions, and human rights activists up to it? If so, they had better get in quick!

For more information on the forum, go to www.ifgr.ps or email info@ifgr.ps Alternatively, contact Julie Webb-Pullman julie@scoop.co.nz

*************

Julie Webb-Pullman (click to view previous articles) is a New Zealand based freelance writer who has reported for Scoop since 2003. She was selected to be part of the Kiwi contingent on the Viva Palestina Convoy - a.k.a. Kia Ora Gaza. Send Feedback to julie@scoop.co.nz


Also from Julie Webb-Pullman in Gaza:
Julie Webb-Pullman: Photo Essay from Gaza
Scoop Image: Viva Palestina Women Meet Hamas FM
Julie Webb-Pullman meets Hamas Leaders In Gaza
Gaza Convoy Photo Essay (3): Day One In Gaza
Gaza Convoy Photo Essay (2): Rafah to Gaza
Gaza Convoy Photo Essay (1): Al-Arish to Rafah

ENDS

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