UN halts construction of homes, schools in Gaza

UNRWA director says projects on hold because cement and other building supplies have run out.

UNRWA in gaza 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNRWA in gaza 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The United Nations on Monday suspended vital construction projects like homes, schools and sewers in the Gaza Strip, blaming shortage of raw materials - just the latest hardship facing the overcrowded, poverty-stricken territory buffeted by infighting and ruled by the Islamic Hamas. John Ging, director of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said a "huge number" of houses in refugee camps were damaged during months of clashes between Hamas and rival Fatah forces in Gaza, and now his agency can't repair them. Also, he said, school repairs and construction have fallen behind schedule, and Gaza kids might be left on the dusty streets instead of in classrooms. "Some $93 million worth of projects are on hold because cement and other building supplies have run out," Ging said. The agency's construction projects employ 121,000 people, and their halt will deliver another further blow to Gaza's depressed economy, he said. In the southern town of Rafah, the concrete skeletons of dozens of partly finished houses sit idly on the sand next to the sea. Construction has been halted, forcing dozens of destitute families to crowd into tiny houses with their relatives. Ahmed Ashour, 44, is living with his wife and seven children with his 83-year-old mother-in-law. His house in the Rafah camp was destroyed in an Israeli operation in 2003, and UNRWA was building him a new one. "The house is supposed to be ready in March 2008," he said. "They began the project but it has been halted because the border has been closed." In the meantime, he has had to move from house to house seven times, he said. "Some charities donated furniture," he said, adding, "There are plenty of people worse off than me." About 1.4 million people are jammed into Gaza, a tiny territory 40 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide with no natural resources, hemmed in on two sides by Israel, one side by the Egyptian Sinai desert and the other by the Mediterranean Sea.