Some 75,000 Palestinians in Gaza, half of them children, remain displaced after their homes were destroyed during Israel’s assault in July and August 2014, according to a new United Nations study.
Nearly 500,000 people – more than one in four of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents – were displaced during the onslaught that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 550 children.
Approximately 100,000 remained without shelter by the time a ceasefire was declared on 26 August 2014.
An estimated 18,000 homes were rendered uninhabitable as a result of the 51-day onslaught and only 3,000 have been rebuilt.
Substandard temporary shelter
Most of those who are still displaced are living in rented accommodation, a UN survey found.
“Given the shortage of formal rental units available on the Gaza market,” the UN report states, people have made “alternative arrangements” ranging from “living in store rooms, unfinished units, substandard apartments in relatives’ or neighbors’ buildings.”
Almost half of those living in rented shelter expressed concern “that they may be forced to leave their current place of residence.”
Nearly one-quarter of those who remain displaced said they were living in their damaged homes.
A much smaller number live in prefabricated shelters donated as humanitarian aid; a baby froze to death in one such caravan last month.
The UN notes that an internally displaced person in Gaza has moved 2.4 times on average in the last year and a half.
The war and subsequent displacement has had a particularly severe impact on women and children.
Most households with female members said that the 2014 assault led to increased gender-based violence and more than 30 percent of displaced females “are living in shelter conditions that are lacking in safety, dignity and privacy including living in tents, makeshift shelters, destroyed houses, or the open air.”
“More than 1,500 children were orphaned, an estimated 27,000 children had their homes completely destroyed and 44,000 children were displaced at the time of the survey,” the UN report states.
More than half of surveyed displaced households reported an increase in psychosocial distress in their children, but only 6 percent said they receive psychosocial support.
Nearly all of those surveyed said that lack of money prevented the reconstruction of their homes. Three-quarters said that lack of building materials was a factor.
Two months after the August 2014 ceasefire, $5.4 billion was pledged by third-party states towards rebuilding Gaza.
At the time, the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank announced that nearly half of that would go to its own coffers for unspecified purposes, leaving $3.5 billion for Gaza.
As of the end of February 2016, only 39 percent of the $3.5 billion in pledges had been disbursed.
Reconstruction has been further restricted by Israel’s refusal to allow many building supplies into Gaza, on the pretext that some items could prove useful to Hamas or other armed groups.
Israel limits the amount of concrete, steel bars, electrical goods, pipes and wood thicker than one centimeter that may enter Gaza.
The UN agency for Palestine refugees, known as UNRWA, has complained that aid agencies have to deal with a “lengthy and cumbersome approval process” in order to access essential material for rebuilding.
The UN brokered the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, a complicated and secretive system agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to govern the rebuilding of homes and other infrastructure in Gaza.
The mechanism stipulates that the UN monitor and gather private information about Palestinian households to be passed onto Israel, which has a veto over which families get aid to rebuild their homes.
A leading expert on United Nations law warned that the database of personal details of Palestinians in Gaza created under the terms of the mechanism could potentially be misused by Israel to identify targets in future assaults.
In its new report, the UN warns that “At the present rate, it will take years to address the massive reconstruction and repair needs, adding to the general frustration of the population following years of movement restrictions, rising unemployment and poverty.”
Unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world, at a rate of 43 percent, the World Bank reported last year. The situation for youth is even worse, with more than 60 percent unemployed at the end of 2014.
The blockade imposed by Israel since 2007 “has shaved around 50 percent off Gaza’s GDP,” the World Bank added.
Power plant shut down
Gaza’s sole power plant, which was bombed by Israel in July 2014, was forced to shut down last week due to a shortage of funds to replenish its fuel reserves, triggering blackouts of 18-20 hours per day, the UN stated on Monday.
Palestinians in Gaza have long endured extended power cuts resulting from chronic fuel shortages.
The cost of fuel has significantly increased after the Palestinian Authority ended a full exemption on fuel taxes earlier this year.
Power cuts limit the functioning of Gaza’s wastewater treatment plants, causing up to 90 million liters of sewage to flow into the Mediterranean each day.
The UN estimates that some 40 percent of Gaza’s population receives water for 5-8 hours only once every three days.
Israel meanwhile restricts items such as pumps, drilling equipment and disinfectant chemicals.