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Committee: Half of houses destroyed in 2014 Gaza war await reconstruction

Aug. 13, 2016 10:18 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2016 5:01 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Some 50 percent of the buildings which were completely destroyed during Israel’s devastating offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014 are still awaiting reconstruction, head of the Popular Committee Against the Siege Jamal al-Khudari said in a statement Saturday.

The reconstruction process of the small Palestinian territory has been painfully slow due to the ongoing Israeli siege, which imposes severe restrictions on the entry of reconstruction material, al-Khudari said.

He added that some donor countries have also failed to commit to the pledges they made during the Gaza Reconstruction Conference in Cairo, held in October 2014.

According to the World Bank, as of March 31, $1.409 billion of the support to Gaza announced at the conference was disbursed -- 40 percent of the total pledged amount.

Al-Khudari called upon donating countries to fulfill their pledges in order to end the “disastrous and tragic” situation in the Gaza Strip.

He called upon the sponsors of the conference -- Norway and Egypt -- and the rest of the international community to pressure Israel to lift their near decade-long siege that has been upheld by Egypt, particularly to lift restrictions on the entry of reconstruction material.

“The owners of thousands of destroyed houses are still living under exceptional circumstances and extreme suffering. Some are living in caravans and some in rented apartments away from their families, with no stability,” al-Khudari said.

In April, a major survey by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that up to 75,000 Palestinians remained homeless in the blockaded Gaza Strip after the July-August 2014 war.

"After hearing from over 16,000 displaced families in the Gaza Strip, it is clear that most continue to live in desperate conditions," UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid Robert Piper said in a statement at the time. "International support to end this situation is urgently needed."

The survey found that more than 80 percent of the families had borrowed money over the past year to survive, with 85 percent buying food on credit, and as many as 40 percent decreasing their consumption of food.

About 63 percent of the displaced Palestinians were renting living space, but nearly 50 percent feared being evicted, OCHA found, adding that the situation for women and girls was of "particular concern."

"Many families report living in shelter conditions that are lacking in safety, dignity, and privacy, including living in tents, makeshift shelters, destroyed houses, or the open air," the UN body said..

Piper said: "Funding is needed more than ever. We face a funding gap to reconstruct some 6,600 houses, or about 37 percent of the overall caseload. Without this support, thousands of Palestinians will see no end to their displacement."

The Gaza Strip has seen three wars with Israel since 2008, with Israel's 2014 offensive destroying 12,600 homes, and leaving another 6,500 severely damaged and 150,000 housing units uninhabitable.

Reconstruction efforts have been painfully slow -- hindered by Israel's blockade, ongoing disputes with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, and a severe shortage of foreign assistance.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has played a leading role in rebuilding destroyed homes in the beleaguered coastal enclave, but said that of the $720 million required for its emergency shelter program, donor countries have pledged only $247 million.

The UN warned in September last year that if current trends were to continue unchanged in Gaza, the territory would be uninhabitable by 2020.

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