Gazans fear of UN to give up construction despite harsh winter

Gazans suspect that temporary clay houses given to replace homes Israeli-destroyed a year ago are a sign that the UN is giving up on reconstruction.

Gazans fear of UN to give up construction despite harsh winter

Palestinians in Gaza suspect that temporary clay houses they are being given to replace homes destroyed a year ago in the Israeli offensive are a sign that the United Nations is giving up on reconstruction.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says it has been forced to use compressed earth blocks to build some housing because of a continuing Israeli ban on imports of cement and steel, which Israel says could be used for military purposes.

"It's better than the tents. It's better than a house made of scrap metal, or sleeping in the open," said UNRWA media adviser Adnan Abu Hasna.

The United Nations has not given up on plans to replace destroyed concrete homes with new concrete homes, he insisted. The 120 units of unfired clay brick are funded by the United Arab Emirates as a "temporary humanitarian solution", pending efforts to persuade Israel to ease its blockade so that some $5 billion pledged for the rebuilding of Gaza can be put to work.

Thousands of homes, offices and factories were destroyed by bombing, artillery and demolition in the Dec 27-Jan 18 war, in which more than 1,434 Palestinians, a third of them children, were killed.

"Making Gaza look backward with this sort of construction was not something pleasant for us, and we didn't want to. But we have been forced to," Abu Hasna said.

But the clay houses are weather-tight and durable, he added.

"Such houses are being built in parts of Europe and in Malaysia," he said. "It's no stigma to have a house like this."

For hundreds of families living in tents, and thousands camping in half-ruined houses, or sharing space with more fortunate relatives, they would make a welcome change.

Last month UNRWA handed over the first clay house to a family in the northern town of Beit Hanoun, whose two-storey home was destroyed a year ago. It stands out in a district turned to rubble, where tents take the place of buildings.

Nawal Al-Athamna said her two-room, clay-brick dwelling was an improvement after a year of living in tents, which were hot in summer and "unbelievably miserable" in winter. But it was no substitute for her old house where 20 people used to live.

"We hope it is temporary. It must be temporary. It is absolutely no compensation for our lost home," she said. "They (the United Nations) told us it was a replacement for the tent."

Osama Khail, a businessman who heads the Gaza building contractors' association, said UNRWA could use cement available on the Gaza market, which is smuggled via tunnels from Egypt. "It's a surrender to the blockade," said Khail, who suspects the "temporary" housing could become permanent.

UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said the suspicion is unfounded. Houses of compressed-earth bricks were a "transition shelter solution" for homeless families, he said.

"This does not let Israel off the hook."

Reuters
Last Mod: 12 Ocak 2010, 08:22
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