Two thousand hens died on Qandil Lawalha’s poultry farm after it was hit by a storm. That was more than half of all the hens he owned.
“I did not get any kind of support or compensation after the war and had to manage my work by myself,” Lawalha said. “Now I have to start over once again.”
Lawalha depends on the income from his farm to take care of his seven children and his elderly parents. The extreme weather has meant that he had to endure lengthy power failures.
“I was not able to keep the farm warm, and then the water seeped into it,” he said. Many of the hens froze to death.
During January, Gaza suffered from heavy rains, winds of up to 80 km or 50 miles per hour and freezing temperatures.
The losses which the storm caused will be felt for some time.
Another farmer in Rafah, Adham Abu Sniema, had hoped to harvest his crops of peas in early February. “Temperatures dropped so much that my peas withered,” he said. “I worked hard to plant them. Now they are gone.”
Abu Sniema had to borrow money to plant his vegetables. “I thought that I will give the money back to my lender when I sell my harvest of peas,” he said. “Now I must look for some other way to make this money.”
Taher Abu Hamad, a director of Gaza’s agriculture ministry, said that the week-long storm resulted in losses for farmers of more than $1 million.
“More than 12,000 hens died,” he said. “That constitutes 5 percent of all hens raised in the Strip. And a thousand acres of farmland were damaged during the storm.”
Approximately 60 greenhouses were also damaged in Rafah and nearby Khan Younis, according to Abu Hamad.
Soil erosion resulting from the storm is likely to have consequences for the future. “This serious problem makes the soil unfit for the upcoming plantation seasons,” Abu Hamad said.
Farmers were by no means the only ones affected by the extreme weather. Town-dwellers struggled to cope with flooding, too.
Usama Abu Nuqira, a civil defense officer in Rafah, worked alongside 17 colleagues to evacuate people from many apartment blocks.
Their work was made more difficult by how Gaza has not been able to properly recover from Israel’s major attack during the summer of 2014 and from the ongoing consequences of the siege Israel imposed on the Strip in 2007.
At the beginning of the rainy season — in November 2015 — the United Nations monitoring group OCHA warned that Gaza was vulnerable to flooding. OCHA highlighted how Israel was preventing the importation of pumps needed to deal with heavy rainfall.
Israel categorizes many such pumps as “dual use” — claiming that they have both military and civilian applications.
Abu Nuqira said that his team lacked essential equipment to carry out their rescue work. Because they were unable to pump water away from buildings, many homes were flooded.
“Sixty homes were badly flooded in Rafah alone, leaving 100 families homeless,” Abu Nuqira said. “Little children and the elderly are the most vulnerable in such awful situations.”
During 2014, Israel bombed Gaza’s water and sanitation services. Much of the infrastructure has not yet been repaired.
According to Abu Nuqira, the poor state of Gaza’s sewage treatment facilities “constitutes a serious threat to the environment.”
Children bear the brunt
Muhsin Abu Jamaa was among those who were evacuated from their homes in Rafah during the storm. He called the civil defense forces to take his family out when the water reached a meter high inside their home.
“We were surrounded with water from all directions and my children got sick,” Abu Jamaa told The Electronic Intifada. When the storm started to abate, they returned to their home. Most of their furniture and some of their electronics had been damaged.
“What hurts is that this plight is repeated each winter with no tangible steps to solve the problem,” Abu Jamaa added.
This is the second winter that Malik al-Masri and his extended family have had to spend in makeshift shelter. Their three-story house in the Deir al-Balah area of central Gaza was completely destroyed by Israeli shelling in 2014.
The 50-strong extended family was given a caravan, which can barely fit 10 people, so they decided to erect a tent beside it. “Our little children are the ones who bear the brunt of this abysmal situation,” al-Masri said.
Hs son, Husam, attempted to stretch plastic sheets over the broken windows of the caravan. The plastic sheets were of no use. They were blown off on the first day of the storm.
As a result, the caravan was flooded. Mattresses on which children had been sleeping were soon saturated.
Husam asked a question that is constantly on everyone’s minds in Gaza: “How much longer do we have to live like this?”
Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.