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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Gaza "mud houses" and UNRWA bias

UNRWA is doing something useful in Gaza, but it can't resist politicizing it.

Hassan al-Err is the head of a family of seven who are preparing to move into a mud house built by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA has resorted to building with mud because other building materials are not available.

The two-bedroom house in Jabalia, north of Gaza City, is an improvement on the tent in which the 67-year-old Hassan had been living with his family - next to the rubble of their former home. The family’s home was one of 4,036 houses in Gaza which were totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair last year in Israel’s 23-day military operation.

Since then, rebuilding has been almost impossible because Israel does not allow construction materials such as cement and steel into the Strip, saying they could be used for military purposes.

“I can’t forget how hard the past year has been for me and my family living in a tent in the cold winter and the hot summer,” Hassan explains. “Of course a mud house is much better than a tent, although it’s not a real solution because I can’t build another flat on top of it for my two married sons who live in a rented house in Jabalia town.”

UNRWA hopes to build around 120 mud brick houses for dozens of homeless families in the next few months in the Strip. Each house costs about US$10,000 and takes three months to build.

While not a long-term solution for homeless families, the mud houses offer better conditions than tents or partially destroyed buildings. They also provide employment for people UNRWA is training to make mud bricks and homes.

International donors pledged US$4.5 billion in aid for the Palestinian Authority, much of it specifically for Gaza, at a conference in Egypt in March 2009, but little has made its way to the Strip because of the continuing blockade and bitter Palestinian divisions between political parties Hamas and Fatah.

First of all, the last paragraph is an out-and-out lie. The majority of the PA budget is spent in Gaza, and Hamas' budget is considerable as well.

However, when reading this article, do you get the impression that these "mud houses" are miserable, temporary shelters that will disintegrate inthe first rainstorm and only marginally better than tents?

Check out what they look like, from the IRIN website:

The caption says that the houses can be used for more than 100 years with minimal maintenance! Why would UNRWA write that they are not a long-term solution?

The fact that one cannot build a two or three-story house out of mud bricks does not mean that the houses are not usable - in fact, they appear to be more durable than most houses constructed in the US, which are often made out of wood.

UNRWA, which is to be commended for this program, still can't resist reporting it with an anti-Israel spin. The house in the photo looks more than just utilitarian - it is a beautiful house, and many Westerners would love to live in such a building.