Palestinian officials fear that the winter months will aggravate the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and further degrade its fragile infrastructure. During the war some 20,000 homes were destroyed or rendered inhabitable and over 28,000 people remain displaced in shelters (see section on UNRWA Collective Centres), with many others staying with host families.
Last winter, 10,000 people had to be evacuated, and thousands of greenhouses and field crops sustained damage when floods struck Gaza following powerful thunderstorms and four days of torrential rain.
Response plans to alleviate the potential impact of rain and low temperatures are currently under development and/or implementation by humanitarian agencies participating in the Shelter and NFIs (non-food items) cluster, as well as in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) cluster.
Winter preparedness is a key priority for the Shelter Cluster. Families worst affected by the summer hostilities are particularly ill-prepared for the coming season and require urgent support to prevent further deterioration of their living conditions. This includes people living in homes which are damaged, in makeshift shelters, with host families, or in prefabricated structures. The main objective of Shelter Cluster members is to ensure sufficient thermal comfort for both individuals and structures.
Agencies are collectively preparing stocks of relevant NFIs, including blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, heaters and gas bottles. The current target of Shelter Cluster members is to cover the needs of 60,000 families with such materials, some of which have already been delivered. Procurement of some of these items that are not available in Gaza has required intensive efforts and resulted in delays.
While plastic sheeting provides some degree of insulation for rooms, reconstruction can ensure much better thermal comfort, as well as improving privacy and protection. However, large scale reconstruction works are yet to start due to the limited availability of construction materials. While temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) allowing for the import of building materials by authorized vendors and their sale to individuals and institutions whose properties have been assessed was launched in October, pace of implementation is slow with very few families being able to purchase materials.
The Cluster has also disseminated information about different measures that people can adopt to prepare for and mitigate the impact of weather conditions. This leaflet is available (in both English and Arabic) on the Cluster’s website (www.ShelterPalestine.org).
Damage sustained by WASH infrastructure during the recent hostilities has increased the risk of flooding around damaged waste/storm-water pumping stations, particularly as drainage channels are blocked in some neighbourhoods. The damage to the electricity infrastructure has resulted in greater dependence on fuel-powered generators, leaving existing services vulnerable to both fuel shortages and break-downs due to increased usage (see section on Energy Crisis). While emergency repairs and larger-scale reconstruction of damaged WASH infrastructures continue, progress is hindered by delays in the entry of material and equipment.
WASH cluster partners met with officials from Gaza’s Coastal Municipal Water Utilities (CMWU) and other service providers to identify and discuss implementation of potential flood prevention activities and support.
These discussions formed the basis for the winter flood risk prevention and response component of the WASH Strategic Response Plan (SRP) for the Gaza Strip, alongside continued emergency interventions to ensure basic services for households in waraffected areas and IDPs/host families. The winterization response aims to ensure that service providers can prevent and respond to localized flooding by the provision of key equipment and supplies, including spare parts and fuel. It also ensures support for simple prevention measures and a pre-positioned response capacity for households affected by flooding. In support of the CMWU, one organization (ACF) has conducted a detailed mapping of the existing flood risk in the three southern governorates of the Gaza Strip, and it is hoped that this will be expanded to the northern governorates through the SRP.
* This article was contributed by NRC and UNICEF on behalf of the Shelter and WASH clusters respectively