Gaza’s displaced seek shelter from cold

Residents of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip salvage what they can from the rubble of their homes after Israeli airstrikes. (Free Gaza)

TEL AVIV (IRIN) - One of the chief concerns for displaced Palestinians in Gaza and aid agencies is to find adequate shelter in temperatures that can drop to less than 7-8 degrees Celsius at night.

Thousands are still holed up in United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) shelters or schools. Some are able to return to their homes; others are erecting tents where their destroyed homes used to stand, according to local news agencies.

According to a field update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) — based on reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza — houses, infrastructure, roads, greenhouses, cemeteries, mosques and schools in the al-Zaitoun, Tufah, Shaaf, Jabaliya, Tel al-Hawa, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya areas of northern Gaza have been destroyed.

ICRC field staff said: “A number of areas, including parts of Beit Lahiya, looked like the aftermath of a strong earthquake.”

Chris Gunness, the UNRWA spokesperson in Jerusalem, told IRIN by phone he was not aware of UNRWA distributing tents yet, though they might consider it.

OCHA puts the number of displaced still in UNRWA facilities at some 46,000.

UNRWA schools

UNRWA-run schools were due to start their second semester for 200,000 children on 17 January, so the agency is now trying to find alternative accommodation for displaced persons in the 44 UNRWA schools which are still being used as emergency shelters.

Aid workers say rebuilding the demolished homes might prove to be a problem unless Israel changes its policy of not allowing construction materials into Gaza.

The ICRC’s Yael Segev Eytan told IRIN on 20 January the ICRC did not yet have a complete assessment of the number of displaced Palestinians in need of aid, but that teams were carrying out initial assessments.

Many people have lost all their belongings in the rubble of their homes. The ICRC, in cooperation with the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), is planning to assist some 8,000 households with food parcels, kitchen utensils, hygiene kits, plastic sheeting, blankets and other items, according to Eytan.

The ICRC will focus on emergency repairs to hospitals and other damaged infrastructure, such as water and power systems, to ensure access to drinking water and electricity. It said it was already providing tracing services to people who had lost contact with their relatives.

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