Is Gaza Livable?

The United Nations has released a report predicting that Gaza will be "unlivable" by 2020, with nearly 2.1 million Gazans expected to be displaced by deteriorating water, power, health, education and sanitation services.  As I sit here without electricity to cook dinner for my family, I have news for the UN: Gaza is already unlivable. I feel lucky when the power is out for only six hours now, compared to 18 hours a few months back, during an unbearably hot summer when fuel supplies were not getting into Gaza.  

Gaza is already "unlivable" for the thousands of men, women and children suffering from chronic illness because our pharmacies are out of 200 vital medications these people need to live a normal life.

Only about one-fourth of Gaza’s waste water is treated.  The rest of the raw sewage just spills into the sea – more than 75,000 liters a day.  

All this is a painful reality we deal with every day in Gaza. We are so consumed with trying to survive, we don’t think beyond tomorrow. So, the UN report was a rude awakening for me and an alarm bell reminding me that we need to do something now to save the future for our children.

Accomplishing this is not beyond our means. We have the skills and talent. But more than five years of closure has sapped our resources and cut off direct access to the equipment and building materials we need to turn our hopes into reality, not to mention access to outside markets to sell our goods in order to provide for our families.

Under these tough circumstances, Gaza’s economy is crippled.  Only five trucks with products for export made it out of Gaza last year.  An average of 250 trucks of supplies are allowed into Gaza each day, but that’s not even one-third of what used to come into Gaza before we were closed off in 2007.

We have to depend on external donations and illegal tunnels to get products. In an impoverished Gaza, tunnel traders are reaping profits. We call them “traders of opportunities” who bring construction materials through the tunnels and then build high-priced houses.

But their schemes are failing. Many of the houses that are built are below safety standards and are uninhabitable. New houses sit empty. When eight out of 10 Gazans have to depend on foreign assistance to survive, who can afford to rebuild a home, let alone a shop or factory, destroyed in Israel’s 2009 military operation?

As our population continues to increase, we lack the basic services and infrastructure to meet our needs.

It is only thanks to the support and dedication of international humanitarian organizations and the international community at large that we are managing to survive – to stock our pharmacies, repair and expand our clean water networks, rehabilitate schools and community centers, and encourage reading and school activities to prepare our children for the future.

It is also thanks to support from foreign governments that we can build facilities to help meet the needs of our ever-increasing population. Two major hospitals are being built, thanks to donors like the governments of Malaysia, Turkey and Qatar. Unemployment has gone down from 37% to 28%, thanks in part to temporary U.S.-sponsored cash-for-work programs.  

In my work with ANERA, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, I have the opportunity to visit people who are helped by our work and listen to their stories. Samar Abu Jaraad, for example, has been living in a makeshift home – built from planks of wood, cloth and blankets – ever since her husband lost his job, leaving them with no money to finish building their home. A table in one corner serves as the "kitchen" and a shelf in another serves as a closet for her family’s clothes. Three mattresses on the dirt floor serve as seating for guests and beds for the family of six at night. Rats are a constant menace, no matter how clean she keeps her home. Her four children were always sick. With help from ANERA, they were diagnosed and treated for parasites, a common ailment and a leading cause of anemia among Gaza’s vulnerable youngsters.  

Samar’s struggles are not unique. Her story is repeated in almost every village and town in Gaza. Daily life for most is grim. Four out of 10 Gazans are food insecure. Six out of 10 live in poverty. Eight out of 10 depend on humanitarian support to survive.  

We don’t need to read that our lives will be "unlivable" in another eight years. They already are. Reports in foreign media suggesting our lives have greatly improved are only seeing the profits of a few, not the reality of most. We deserve better. We need to take urgent action now to improve the situation Gaza – for more than just the privileged minority – to save the future for all our children.

By Rania Elhilou, Gaza Communications Officer, ANERA