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Thousands Of Homes Destroyed In Gaza War Remain In Ruins


It's been nearly a year since Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire, ending a seven-week conflict. The U.N. estimates that some 18,000 homes were destroyed in the fighting and are still in ruins. While the international community has pledged 2-and-a-half billion dollars to aid Gaza's reconstruction, just a quarter of that money has come through. Kathleen Maes heads the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Gaza where she lives. I asked her to describe the current living conditions in neighborhoods there.

KATHLEEN MAES: The living conditions for many people who have lost their homes are quite difficult. And now, of course, we have the warm weather with temperatures that are quite high. And if you live in one of these makeshift homes - caravans, we call them, but they're actually containers comparable to shipping containers - temperatures can reach over 50 degrees Celsius in there with the metal sheeting.

Other people are living in their destroyed house and are, at all times, exposed to the warm weather and obviously don't have good services - water, electricity. That obviously goes for almost everybody in Gaza, as we have electricity cuts that range from 12 to 16 hours per day. And most people in Gaza only have running water every couple of days.

CORNISH: There had been an agreement, and the U.N. was involved in this. But it was an agreement to help bring in building materials in part because Israel was concerned about the building of underground tunnels that they found after the war last year. So what has that meant in terms of bringing in materials? What are the limits?

MAES: I think, at the moment, about 1-and-a-half million tons have come in. However, 22 million tons need to come in to deal with the reconstruction of Gaza. And there is indeed a monitoring mechanism to make sure that these materials are used for the right purposes.

However, there is a black market where these construction materials are sold at higher prices. From what we know, it seems to be mostly that people who can afford to buy construction materials to repair their home are buying these materials from the black market.

CORNISH: So what does that mean for the typical person living in Gaza? How are they supposed to get access to these materials to rebuild?

MAES: You get access once your name is processed through the mechanism. But then, more importantly, you need money to actually purchase these materials. And as 80 percent of people in Gaza receive some form of humanitarian assistance, most of the people who have lost their homes do not have the money to buy these materials.

CORNISH: So far, I understand there's been something like 600 homes rebuilt out of the 18,000 we talked about being destroyed. How long do you think it will take for Gaza to recover?

MAES: If everything were to go smoothly, it would take at least five to eight years, but the process takes a lot longer. So experts in the reconstruction and shelter sector said that at this rate, it will take about 17 years.

CORNISH: Kathleen Maes, what kind of stress does this put on this already stressed population?

MAES: It puts a lot of stress on the population because basically everybody who is over 6 or 7 will have experienced three wars and the accumulated trauma that comes with it. So in an environment where it's difficult to find the basic services, it creates a lot of, also, social concerns because frustration among an already tired and traumatized population in Gaza can lead to negative consequences.

CORNISH: Kathleen Maes is head of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Gaza. She spoke to us from Jerusalem. Thank you so much.

MAES: My pleasure. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we say that 600 of the 18,000 homes destroyed in Gaza have been rebuilt. In fact, reconstruction recently began on those 600 homes.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this report, we say that 600 of the 18,000 homes destroyed in Gaza have been rebuilt. In fact, reconstruction recently began on those 600 homes.