Analysis |

Gaza’s Destruction: An Unbearable Humanitarian and Financial Toll

Hamas figures estimate that damage to the Gaza Strip has already cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars, while damage to power and water infrastructure has obstructed access to water for around 800,000 people

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian elderly man walks past a building destroyed by Israeli shelling in Gaza City, yesterday.
A Palestinian elderly man walks past a building destroyed by Israeli shelling in Gaza City, yesterday.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED - AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The direct material damage to infrastructure and buildings in the Gaza Strip, as of Wednesday, is estimated at about a quarter of a billion dollars. Of this figure, provided by the head of Hamas’ information office, Salameh Maaruf, some $92 million dollars of damage was done to residential housing and the offices of various non-governmental organizations throughout the Strip. With every additional day of fighting, this figure grows.

Gaza’s power grid has also been damaged, incurring an estimated $22 million in damage as of Tuesday. The electricity supply has been reduced to three or four hours a day due to the impaired facilities. Gazans who operate neighborhood generators, which provide electricity to residents for a steep fee, announced that their services will be limited due to the shortage of fuel, which so far Israel has not allowed in through the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.

On Tuesday, 500,000 liters of fuel were brought into the Strip via Egypt’s Rafah crossing. This will allow the power station in Gaza to continue operations, although to a lesser extent than before the war, when it supplied eight hours of power followed by eight hours of stoppage.

The limited electricity supply has badly impaired Gaza’s water system. More than 95 percent of the water drawn from the Gaza aquifer is unfit for drinking, and must be purified and desalinated. These facilities depend on electricity to operate, as do the sewage treatment plants and pumps. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Palestinian Water Authority announced that because of the shutdown or limited operation of water, hygiene and sanitation facilities, the water supply has plummeted by more than 40 percent.

The situation only worsened after Monday, when the water and sewage pipelines that serve more than 140,000 people in the area of Khan Yunis and the central Gaza Strip were damaged by airstrikes. In total, 10,000 meters of underground sewage and water lines have been damaged so far, as well as wastewater networks, sewage evacuation vehicles, wells and a wastewater pumping station.

A Palestinian electricity worker walks at the site where a tower building was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City last week.Credit: SUHAIB SALEM / Reuters

Due to the lack of power, three main desalination plants providing services for more than 400,000 people have suspended operations, and more than 100,000 cubic meters of untreated or partially treated wastewater are being discharged to the sea daily. In total, about 800,00 people now have no regular access to water, and humanitarian organizations fear that the number of people suffering from a lack of potable water will only increase if the warring parties do not reach a cease-fire

According to Maaruf, as of Tuesday, 1,335 housing units were destroyed in the ongoing Israeli bombardments or damaged so severely that they are unfit for habitation. According to the United Nations, the number of uprooted Gazans – either those whose houses were destroyed or those who have fled them due to the intensive bombardment – has reached 75000. Around 47,000 of them found shelters in UNRWA schools, and the rest are dispersed among relatives and friends.

About 12,800 housing units were partially damaged. Hundreds of private offices and NGO offices were severely damaged and 33 media offices were completely demolished. As of Wednesday afternoon, the total number of structures demolished completely or severely damaged stands at 184, of which 18 were bombarded Tuesday and Wednesday. One of the severely damaged offices belonged to the Qatari Red Crescent, housed in the Al-Shawwa building in the center of Gaza City, which was attacked on Monday. A bank in the same building was also severely damaged.

The strike also badly damaged nearby buildings, including the Al-Rimal clinic, which housed the main laboratory for COVID testing. The laboratory halted work as a result. In the bombardment of a five-story structure on Tuesday, the Al-Nahda bookstore and publishing house were completed demolished, as well as a pharmacy and the central office of al-Amal Institute for Orphans.

Maaruf said that the damage caused by the destruction of government buildings is estimated at about $23 million. According to Maaruf, Israel bombarded 74 Hamas government offices and public buildings, such as municipal facilities, police stations and security facilities. Israeli strikes badly damaged 50 government schools and educational facilities, as well as an UNRWA vocational training center and two kindergartens. According to information provided by the United Nations, six hospitals and 11 medical centers were damaged. One hospital has not functioned since Sunday because its electricity has been cut off.

Palestinians who fled their home due to Israeli air and artillery strikes fill bottles with water at a school hosting refugees in Gaza city, last week.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

After one Sunday morning airstrike, the Doctors Without Borders trauma and burn clinic had to be closed, both because of structural damage and because the road leading to it had been destroyed. Three mosques have been completely wrecked since the war began; another 40 mosques and one church were badly damaged. A five-story building belonging to the Waqf Muslim religious trust was badly damaged. The damage to religious structures is estimated at $5 million.

Gaza’s agriculture sector has thus far incurred some $24 million worth of damage by bombardment of cultivated fields, animal facilities and irrigation systems, according to preliminary estimates by the Hamas Agriculture Ministry. Farmers in the Strip fear going out to work their land due to strikes, especially after a number of farmers were killed.

The hostilities have caused $40 million in damage to Gaza’s commerce and industry; some factories have taken direct hits in Israeli military strikes. On Saturday, an Israeli artillery strike on Beit Lahia hit the offices of the Al-Khdeir Brothers import company and Al-Mudawar pharmaceutical company. The buildings, which housed large quantities of plastic and agricultural equipment, went up in flames. On that same day, another artillery strike destroyed a family-owned sewing workshop in the village of Shokka in the southern Gaza Strip.

The value of all the private and government vehicles demolished or partially damaged is estimated to be higher than $5.5 million, while damage to communication and internet lines is estimated at about $5.6 million.

The damage to roads and to water and sewage infrastructure is estimated at about $27 million, as of Wednesday. Due to the bombardments, traffic is light on Gaza’s roads and most people prefer to remain in their homes or nearby. Key traffic arteries have been blocked by the ruins of bombarded roads, which has impeded the arrival of food suppliers, medical teams and other rescue services. They now either have to take a longer route or can’t reach their destinations at all. This is a particularly life-threatening situation when it comes to medical, fire and rescue teams, who are called to extricate people from the rubble or to put out blazes.

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