Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stormy Weather Floods Parts of Gaza, More than 300 Families Affected

The Gaza Strip experienced heavy floods and strong winds over the weekend, leaving some of the poorest in the most vulnerable areas exposed to the biting cold and unrelenting rain. The cold, stormy weather spell comes just at a time when the Gaza Strip is experiencing a fuel crisis, with increased power cuts lasting up to 12 hours a day.

Gaza authorities reported that until Saturday morning more than 300 families were affected by the damage, with the homes of seven families completely destroyed. In northern Beit Lahiya, flooding cut off a neighbourhood from the main road and 15 families were evacuated.

Other families refused to move when offered temporary housing by local authorities, fearing that their houses would never be repaired if they left.

In Al Saftawi, north of Gaza City, the Al Bishawi family was completely overwhelmed by the storm, with water leaking in from the door and the roof.

"There has been flooding here since Thursday night and parts of our zinc ceiling were blown away" said Rafeeq Al Bishawi, the head of one of four families living in the ramshackle house built irregularly on government land.

A total of 17 people live in the house, including young children and babies, and many more live in the neighbourhood which is also home to an unofficial, exposed sewage pool. The majority of households in Al Saftawi are not connected to sewage networks, with most of the raw sewage seeping into the unofficial pool or stored in primitive underground septic tanks.

"We're terrified that if the banks of the pool give in, we'll be all drown in sewage," Rafeeq added. "But we have nowhere else to go, we can't improve our houses on our own."

The Al Saftawi residents also face legal hurdles given their irregular land status.
The sewage pool is believed to be six to seven metres deep and the primitive wiring surrounding it does not provide adequate safety measures, leaving children at risk of falling and drowning in the pool – as has happened in other similar pools in the Gaza Strip. Oxfam and its local partners have been calling urgently for the closing off of these pools. Oxfam and partner organisation Ma'an Centre for Development were among the first agencies to conduct a rapid risk assessment of floods together with other humanitarian NGOs and in coordination with local authorities.

The World Food Programme and UNRWA are distributing emergency mattresses to affected families as well as emergency food rations, in coordination with Gaza's social affairs ministry. The same ministry is providing food aid and temporary shelter options. Oxfam is also assessing the best public health and food security response in areas where it is already working.

Gaza authorities have set up a special telephone number for families in need of help – 5151050.

 http://english.pnn.ps/index.php/national/1033-stormy-weather-floods-parts-of-gaza-more-than-300-families-were-affected

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