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Gazans build mud stoves using tunnels' sand; no fuel expected in coming days

Nov. 30, 2008 7:51 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 30, 2008 7:51 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an Report - Piles of sand and mud began popping up in front of houses in Rafah last week. The traditional signs of home renovations or construction, the neighborhood wondered about the reasons behind these piles, since no construction materials have come into Gaza for months.

On closer inspection it becomes obvious that the piles cannot be construction materials, since the sand is not the same color of the sand from Gaza's abandoned settlements, from where most material has been salvaged.

The sand, in fact, is the same color as the sand beneath the homes of the southern area of the Gaza Strip.

The sand excavated from the hundreds of tunnels snaking beneath the Gaza-Egypt border is being given a second life. The latest construction projects in Gaza are mud and sand stoves powered by firewood.

Since the siege stopped the transfer of food, fuel and construction materials into the Strip, Gazans have been forced to get creative if they are going to survive.

Abu Yasser, a resident of Rafah city, saw the value of the sand early, and made a deal with tunnel diggers to have some of the sand delivered to his home. His was one of the first buildings in front of which a mud and sand stove appeared.

"I used to work inside the Green Line [in Israel]," said Abu Yasser, "but since the last Intifada I have lived hard situations, I sold food products in some of the markets here but now that there is no food or supplies coming in I can no longer work."

Desperate times, says the father, call for desperate measures.

Another Rafah resident, Abu Mohammad, said when he saw the piles of sand next to the tunnels he thought also began wondering how he could use the material, "since no one else was using it."

"I mix the muddy sand with hay and straw," he explained, and crafts small ovens out of the sturdy material. "I sell each stove for 150 shekels," he said with a half smile.

To make the ovens the tunnel sand is first purified and large rocks and debris are sifted out. Next water and hay are added to the sand. The resulting sticky mixture is formed into the dome shaped oven and left to dry. The final product is sturdy enough to be carried and transported.

Abu Yasser said he learned how to make the ovens from his father when he was a little boy. "I last built these ovens 15 years ago," he reflected, but the last time was for fun, now it is a necessity.

The almost total absence of fuels and cooking gasses has made the search for alternative forms of energy imperative for Gazans.

Paraffin camp stoves, ingenious solar energy and wood-burning contraptions have all become popular now that the mostly urban Strip has been sent back to the pre-industrial era.

Since 4 November the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip have not received any, not provisions: food, fuel, raw materials or construction supplies except for a "token" amount of goods transferred in on 17, 24, 26 and 27 November.

Approximately two thirds of the goods transferred into Gaza were for humanitarian organizations like UNRWA, and industrial fuel supplies for the Gaza power generator were not enough for more than 30 hours of electricity.

The Gaza Strip now experiences rolling blackouts for most of the day, lineups form outside of bakeries that receive small shipments of flower and the tunnels are bringing in basic goods for subsistence living that few people can afford.

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