Middle East

Gaza has just one plentiful resource – rubble

2022-01-15T08:00:00.0000000Z

2022-01-15T08:00:00.0000000Z

Stuff NZ Newspapers

https://stuff.pressreader.com/article/281719797945973

World

The Gaza Strip has few jobs, little electricity and almost no natural resources. But after four bruising wars with Israel in just over a decade, it has lots of rubble. Local businesses are now finding ways to cash in on the chunks of smashed concrete, bricks and debris left behind by years of conflict. In a territory suffering from a chronic shortage of construction materials, a bustling recycling industry has sprouted up, providing income to a lucky few but raising concerns that the refurbished rubble is substandard and unsafe. ‘‘It’s a lucrative business,’’ said Naji Sarhan, deputy housing minister in the territory’s Hamas-led government. The challenge, he said, is regulating the use of recycled rubble in construction. ‘‘We are trying to control and correct the misuse of these materials,’’ he said. Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers have gone to war four times since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of the territory in 2007. The most recent fighting was in May. Israeli airstrikes have damaged or levelled tens of thousands of buildings in the fighting. The United Nations Development Programme says it worked with the local private sector to remove some 2.5 million tonnes of rubble left behind from wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014. Gaza’s Housing Ministry says the 11-day war in May left an additional 270,000 tonnes. The UNDP has worked on rubble recycling since Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. It also has played a key role in the latest cleanup, removing about 110,000 tonnes, or more than onethird of the rubble. That includes the Al-Jawhara building, a high-rise in downtown Gaza City that was damaged so heavily by Israeli missiles that it was deemed beyond repair. Israel said the building housed Hamas military intelligence operations. Over the past three months, excavators lifted atop the building systematically demolished it floor by floor. Just one floor remains and the construction crews are now removing the building’s foundations and pillars on the ground. In a common scene outside every building destroyed by the war, workers separated twisted rebar iron from the debris. It would be straightened out and later reused in things like boundary walls and ground slabs. Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza for the past 15 years, restricting the entry of badly needed construction materials. Israel says such restrictions are needed to prevent Hamas from diverting goods like concrete and steel for military use. Since 2014, it has allowed some imports under the supervision of the United Nations. But thousands of homes need to be repaired or rebuilt, and shortages are rampant. The UNDP has put tight restrictions on its recycling effort. It says that renewed rubble is not safe enough for use in building homes and buildings. Instead, it allows it to be used only for road projects. ‘‘We do not recommend any of the rubble to be used for any reconstruction as such, because it is not a good quality material for reconstruction,’’ said Yvonne Helle, a UNDP spokeswoman. She said the metal is separated and returned to the buildings’ owners because it ‘‘also has a value.’’ On a recent day, trucks trickled into a lowland in central Gaza near the Israeli frontier, carrying large chunks from the Al-Jawhara tower. The site, adjacent to a mountain of garbage serving as Gaza’s main landfill, is overseen by the UNDP. A wheel loader filled a bucket with debris that was tossed into a crushing machine. It produces large pieces of aggregate that the site supervisor said could be used as a base under the asphalt layer in street construction. Because of safety concerns, they are not allowed to crush the rubble into smaller aggregate that could be used in house construction.

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