Flooding worsens Gazans’ plight

By Sheldon C. Good

Dec. 20, 2013

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A week after torrential, cold rain battered the Gaza Strip, people in the al Nafaq Street area of eastern Gaza City are still struggling to clean mud and debris out of homes and businesses.

Flood waters that initially swelled to 12 feet within 12 hours on al Nafaq Street on Dec. 11 and 12 have receded to about six feet of sewage-contaminated water on sections of the street. The flooding caused 400 households to lose everything and about 100 people were hospitalized because of frostbite or upper respiratory infections.

Using small fishing vessels and various makeshift boats, dozens of community people helped each other to clean out street-level homes and to salvage items from homes and shops. Walking is restricted to narrow stretches of mud and sand along the flooded roads.
As day fades to night, clean-up efforts are replaced by the noise of multiple generators on nearly every block, as electricity is scarce, and temperatures consistently dip into the 40s.

Al Najd Development Forum, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner, responded quickly to the need by providing clothes and food rations. MCC now is funding a continued distribution of these items as well as household and kitchen supplies to 100 families in various locations in Gaza, including eastern Gaza City. An MCC team was in Gaza Dec. 18 to assess the situation.

In the broader Gaza Strip, the flooding forced 40,000 residents to flee their homes, and 100,000 people have lost production of their agricultural land. Most people sought shelter with family or in public buildings such as schools.

The United Nations declared Gaza “a disaster area” on Dec. 14.

Khalid Abu Sharekh, chairperson of Al Najd, said the flooding was disastrous but its effect was much worse because Gazans were already in survival mode because of the Israeli occupation.

“The occupation has meant a lack of income for people, and that makes this natural disaster a catastrophe,” he said, referring to Israel’s control of supplies and people in and out of Gaza.

Even before the flooding, unemployment, poor health care, lack of education and stressed agriculture were major issues in Gaza, said Dan Bergen, MCC representative in Palestine and Israel with his spouse Joanna Hiebert Bergen. They are from Winnipeg, Man.

Gaza's 1.8 million people have endured daily 12-hour blackouts since the lone power plant was switched off in November due to a fuel shortage. Israel limits fuels and other supplies that get into Gaza, and within the past year, Egypt has closed tunnels that for many years were used to bring fuel and supplies into Gaza and to send exports out.

On Dec. 13, Israel opened a crossing with Gaza, allowing fuel supplies and four water pumps to enter to help relieve the effects of the flooding. However, many Gazans, including MCC partners, maintain that Israel worsened the flooding by opening dams east of Gaza.

In recent days, due to fuel donations from the Qatar government, power has been going on and off in eight-hour increments, instead of every 12 hours. Nevertheless, Gaza is mostly dark after sunset around 5 p.m.

“Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster,” said Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, on Dec. 14. “But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this.”

To support MCC’s efforts to quickly respond to disasters like this around the world, consider contributing to “Where needed most,” at donate.mcc.org.

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Sheldon C. Good is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C.