Representatives of local and international non-governmental organizations, private sector's institutions and experts, discussed ways to ensure social protection and proper accommodation for most marginalized Gaza Strip's residents, amidst increasingly rapid population growth, across the Gaza Strip.
During the workshop that has been organized by the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) in Gaza City, the participants agreed that the continued Israeli occupation violations against the Palestinian people including a 15-year-long crippling siege of the Gaza Strip and frequent military attacks on the Gaza Strip, have caused deterioration of economic, humanitarian and social conditions.
They also pointed out that the ongoing Palestinian political split has badly affected residents' ability to steadfast and defy all Israeli occupation actions against the Gaza Strip.
The PNGO-organized workshop was titled “Reality of social protection and the right to housing in the Gaza Strip” and it was a part of PNGO’s project in partnership with Fredrich Ebert Stiftung “Channels of developing Community needs within a rapid population growth in the Gaza Strip”.
Workshop participants called for reinforcing networking and effective communication among all government, non-governmental and private sector organizations, for the best of a joint integrated action within a national strategy for fighting poverty and desperate needs, as well as setting forth fair laws for social protection.
Participants at the workshop affirmed on the significance of constructing multi-storey residential buildings as a way out of the housing crisis, which partly caused by shortage of proper land. They further noted that in order to procced with such a form of construction, there needs to be an appropriate residential environment that can be balanced and sustainable, taking into account various forms of using available lands.
From his part, Amjad Shawa, Director of PNGO, mentioned during his speech that the Gaza Strip has suffered from a deep housing crisis because of the Israeli occupation-imposed siege of the Gaza Strip and frequent attacks on the region since 2008 up to 2021. Shawa noted that this situation is sufficiently dangerous for the time being and, in the future, as the Gaza Strip has been rendered in an accumulative shortage of housing units, basic services, jobs and a good standard of living. All these factors, according to Shawa, have badly affected attempts to improve living conditions across the Gaza Strip and put the future of Gaza Strip at risk.
Shawa clarified that population growth and construction works in the Gaza Strip, have not gone parallel to proper planning including comprehensive developmental schemes that could have met various needs of the population. Shawa noted that for these reasons, urban environment has been facing negative repercussions.
On the reality of social protection in Palestine, Shawa added that this reality is different from others societies, bearing in mind that the Israeli occupation has made difficult to maintain social protection, due to what Shawa highlighted as Israeli occupation transfer policy and other actions on the ground, causing poverty, unemployment and displacement. Shawa called for supporting stead fastening of Palestinian residents and ensuring social protection, as well sorting out all related problems that have posed a challenge to social protection.
From his part, Mr. Osama Antar, Program Manager of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, explained that the housing sector in the Gaza Strip has suffered from large-scale shortage that have been increasingly needed to meet natural population growth. He also mentioned that there is a large number of populated housing units that are largely inadequate for living. He further noted that in the Gaza Strip there are more than 2,000 housing units that have been badly affected by frequent Israeli occupation attacks and that those units have not yet been repaired.
Antar pointed out that humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip are further deteriorating in a time all productive sectors and basic social and infrastructure services have been largely badly affected. He called for reinforcing social protection in a way that would enable the population to fight poverty, unemployment, as well as develop all the services, provided for impoverished, marginalized, most vulnerable residents and laborers with low income.
Salama Abu Zaiter, presented a paper during the workshop, titled “Reality of social protection in the Gaza Strip”. Abu Zaiter’s paper addressed most prominent obstacles, challenges and problems, facing social protection in Palestine.
Abu Zaiter pointed out that social protection constitutes a key approach to supporting the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, especially impoverished citizens, vulnerable individuals, laborers and marginalized communities. He added that the Palestinian people have been exposed to Israeli occupation transfer policy, siege and frequent wars, leaving many Palestinians dead or wounded and causing many families to endure orphanage or lack of a family head, thus creating poverty or unemployment.
He also noted that those Israeli occupation actions have caused some other economic and social problems including low income and poverty, as well as vulnerability of the private sector. This situation, according to Abu Zaiter, has undermined the people's right to social protection and housing, as stated in heavenly and human-made international laws. He called for establishing social protection institutions and programs that would in turn protect local citizens from risks and ramifications of such a situation, by means of helping meet all family needs and this supporting steadfastness of the Palestinian people.
Abu Zaiter made clear that all the services provided by staff members of social protection sector are still beyond standards of quality based on international and regional criterions. He noted that all such services have not yet met essential needs for fighting poverty and ensuring social protection. He believed that the gap between the services provided, and the needs is getting wider every year, mainly because of shortage of needed funding and increased numbers of impoverished citizens, as well as social vulnerability. This requires re-studying the reality of social protection in the Gaza Strip in order to encounter all possible challenges and difficulties in order to upgrade the existing social protection-related programs and services, for the best to enhance citizen steadfastness and provide assistance on the basis of solidarity, justice, fairness and sustainability to ensure decent life for the family.
Abu Zaiter also called for intensified efforts and coordination among all parties concerned, including government, social partners, non-governmental organizations, and others, for the best of founding a comprehensive unified system that responds to all needs of various social categories, with some special emphasis on different interests when it comes to social and economic policies. Abu Zaiter further noted that the natural population growth and the increase in the number of impoverished and unemployed citizens should be taken into account.
He finally presented a series of suggestions that would in turn enhance the function of social protection and expand the scope of social protection itself, with a better quality, and called for setting up a road map for contributions by non-governmental organizations, in order to reactivate the social protection system at the level of the Gaza Strip.
In a paper titled “Reality of housing in the Gaza Strip”, by Mohammad Skaik, a Gaza-based researcher, pointed out that the population growth has aggravated existing problems (infrastructure, basic services, poverty, unemployment, and water). He noted that due to the fragility and exposure, human resources have become an increasing burden in the development.
Skaik stressed that Gaza Strip is a small area of territory, with limited natural resources, along with overpopulation, the Gaza Strip itself is vulnerable to a series of disasters at many levels including education, health, and infrastructure. He noted that half of the Gaza Strip's population is children under the age of 15 and this category of population is unproductive but rather consumptive. Therefore, such a category constitutes a burden for productive categories or sectors. In addition, Skaik believed that the existing internal Palestinian political split, the Israel occupation-imposed siege of Gaza, low economic growth and difficulties of future planning could be main indicators for potential disasters.
Skaik explained that Gaza Strip natural population growth needs about new 15,000 housing units every year, calling for applying smart schemes for urban expansion, instead of what he described as random expansion. He also called for turning existing residential cities into smart cities and ensuring some low-cost housing units for newly married couples or those with low or moderate incomes.
The researcher urged concerned authorities to allocate more funds from the overall budget and support funding housing, as well as encourage investment, ensure international funding, and reconsider some existing systems at municipalities, especially those pertaining to lands distribution.
He also called for getting use of less lands and adopting minimum criterions applied in housing, lowering costs of construction, therefore, most vulnerable households, including those with low or moderate incomes can have access to proper housing. He asserted that those households are the largest category of the Gaza Strip's population.
Meanwhile, the participants in the workshop presented their own comments, notes or recommendations, for the best in the developing of housing sector in the Gaza Strip and supporting social protection in Palestine, in general and in the Gaza Strip, in particular.
They emphasized on the need for a successful strategy that would come out with a national commission for social protection, especially for relief and assistance programs, by means of coordination among all concerned partners. They called for promoting social justice by means of unified efforts and coordination by all parties concerned, for the best of beneficiaries, especially those who are most vulnerable.
They also called for developing means for communication and telecommunication by adopting digitalized technological systems for the organization and implementation of special programs for social protection and fundraising funds for helping relevant organizations assume some effective roles in developing social protection schemes and ensuring some fair social insurance laws that are based on contributions by all partners concerned.