Blockaded Gaza faces huge challenges to rebuild after war

Blockaded Gaza faces huge challenges to rebuild after war

GAZA/NAHAL OZ Israel - Fifty days of war in one of the most densely populated parts of the world have left swathes of Gaza in ruins. With the economy reeling under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, the enclave now faces an almost impossible task of rebuilding.

To do it, Gaza will have to find billions of foreign dollars, contend with Israeli limits on construction materials entering the territory, resolve internal political strife and keep aid flowing to the battered population as it rebuilds.

One fact stands out: before the war, an average of 30 tonnes of cement crossed into Gaza each week. Now, an estimated 10,000 tonnes will be needed every day for the next six months.

In Shejaia, a town near the border hit by heavy Israeli shelling in the war, many homes and factories lie in ruins amid mounds of broken bricks and rubbish festering in the heat.

"Some of the areas here in Gaza, unbelievably enough, look as if they were hit by an earthquake," said Borge Brende, the foreign minister of Norway, who visited the area this week to try to assess the humanitarian and reconstruction needs.

The Palestinian Authority said in a study last week the work would cost $7.8 billion, two and a half times Gaza's gross domestic product, including $2.5 billion for the reconstruction of homes and $250 million for energy.

Gaza economist Maher al-Tabbaa puts rebuilding costs at a lower $5 billion. Either way, international donors meeting in Cairo on Oct. 12 for a rebuilding conference - including the EU, Turkey and Qatar - know one thing: it will be expensive.

"I can't tell you exactly what the figure is," said John Gatt-Rutter, the EU's representative for the West Bank and Gaza.

"All I can tell you is that the needs are huge and that I don't know where anyone's actually going to find the money."

An estimated 18,000 homes, at least three 14-storey apartment buildings, roads, schools, bridges, clinics need to be rebuilt but perhaps the most important job is fixing the power plant. Running at less than 50 per cent of capacity before the war, it is now at just 6 per cent of its potential output.

That has a knock-on impact on water and sewerage, since the treatment plants require power and desalinating water draws vast amounts of energy from the grid.

Rubble removal alone could cost $18 million, while Gaza also needs money for food aid, medicines, education materials and agricultural development.

The 1.8 million population - growing at around 50,000 people a year - is heavily dependent on aid from international donors, and without a marked step-up in growth, the unemployment rate is unlikely to dip much below its current 40 per cent.

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