Rebuilding Gaza will take decades. The time to start planning is now

Every avoidable delay is one that will be paid for by Gaza's civilians in further suffering

According to recent data from the World Bank, about $18.5 billion will be needed to rebuild Gaza. By some estimates, anywhere between 50 and 70 per cent of housing has been destroyed or seriously damaged. AFP
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The facts and figures that summarise the destruction wrought by Israel in Gaza during six months of war are grim. But even they cannot quite illustrate what before-and-after images of the territory show so viscerally. Aerial photographs of Al Shifa Hospital and the surrounding area taken in 2022 show a densely inhabited district where, although times were tough, the recognisable signs of human activity were there: traffic, homes, businesses, parks and streets. Images of the same area taken this month reveal a flattened wasteland.

According to recent data from the World Bank, the cost of damage incurred between October and January alone is about $18.5 billion.By some estimates, anywhere between 50 and 70 per cent of housing has been destroyed or seriously damaged, while more than 33,000 people have been killed. The depth of the destruction and the immense challenge of rebuilding were laid bare by experts talking to The National this week. One of them, Dana Erekat – who worked on a detailed assessment of Gaza’s reconstruction in 2014, after a 50-day war that killed about 2,250 Palestinians – chose 1940s Warsaw as a comparison.

Much of postwar Europe took decades to recover, even with considerable support in the form of the US-backed Marshall Plan, demonstrating how planning, financing and executing reconstruction plans after conflicts or natural disasters is often complex, laborious and fraught with political challenges. Months of planning and consensus-building are required before work even begins. Different national and international agencies must work together, and there needs to be capable and credible partners on the ground. Even the construction of just one pier for Gaza aid shipments took months of discussion. The enclave’s ruin is now so profound that it demands the immediate establishment of an international reconstruction conference, even though the violence is still raging.

This is not as incongruous as it may seem at first glance. Billions of dollars will have to be pledged and delivered , and there are complex political problems to resolve before reconstruction can start. Given the thorny task of rebuilding any territory shattered by conflict, creating an international partnership now is reasonable and responsible because every avoidable delay is one that will be paid for in further suffering. In Gaza’s case, the territory is starting from scratch – at least 100 government buildings have been destroyed, leaving reconstruction teams and any new administration in the enclave without a base.

Everything will have to be fast-tracked – this means establishing a mechanism for co-ordination and disbursement in Gaza that all sides can work with. If that takes the form of an empowered and reformed Palestinian Authority or some other Gaza entity that is not linked to Hamas, then there will be no excuse for the kind of restrictions on aid and construction materials imposed by Israel during its pre-October 7 blockade of the enclave.

It is also important to remember that reconstruction is not just about bricks and mortar – it is more importantly about people; the needs are on every level. There is a whole generation of Gazan children who will need support and treatment for the horrors they’ve experienced. Education has been disrupted, communities torn apart and livelihoods ruined. Re-establishing the enclave’s physical infrastructure is only the first step towards repairing the torn social fabric of Gazan society – that work could take a generation.

There are fewer issues as complex as this but the time for realistic, practical planning is now, even as the war continues to rage. The scale of the challenge is too grave to waste more time.

Published: April 09, 2024, 3:00 AM