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Gaza: hope emerges despite urgent needs

26 January 2009

A man in front of destroyed buildingsIyad NasrJust over a week after a ceasefire took effect, life is slowly returning to normal in Gaza despite the immense destruction and grief caused by three weeks of fighting. People whose property was damaged are trying to repair it with whatever means are available.

There is more traffic in the streets, shops are open again (though the choice of goods on the shelves is limited), and farmers are working the fields. Children are also returning to schools that have been closed for a month.

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has conducted assessments of people’s needs in many areas of Gaza City as well as in Khan Yunis, Rafah and Khozaa in southern Gaza. So far, they have discovered that more than 880 houses have been fully destroyed and a further 650 partially destroyed in these areas.

Gaza residents start rebuilding

"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 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.”

Construction materials needed

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. "Construction materials are urgently needed to build permanent or at least temporary housing.”

Unexploded munitions are also a major cause for concern and pose a lethal threat to Gaza’s residents. Two ICRC specialists are expected to arrive in Gaza on 26 January to gauge the extent of the problem.

ICRC and Palestine Red Crescent work in Gaza

On 24 January, staff from the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent Society distributed relief items to nearly 12,000 people throughout Gaza. Since 19 January, aid has reached over 31,000 people.

At Shifa hospital, the ICRC surgical team continues to support local medical staff. Surveys to gauge damage and needs have also been conducted in other medical facilities.

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, many low-voltage lines taking electricity directly to households are still not working. However, a local company working under ICRC contract has repaired the water-treatment plant in Zeytun, which was seriously damaged during the hostilities.

Donations needed

From 22 January to 4 February, the British Red Cross joined an appeal for Gaza by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella group of 13 UK charities.

Ros Armitage, British Red Cross conflict operations manager, said: "In the short-term, funds are urgently needed to provide relief items to people such as plastic sheeting, tarpaulins, blankets and hygiene kits and we will continue to provide vital support to medical facilities in Gaza, such as medical supplies and a surgical team.”

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