Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar in partnership with Qatar Science and Technology Park, Qatar Foundation and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency presented a lecture by Dr. Abdul-Karim Jouda entitled, 'The Gaza Strip - the challenge of rebuilding a community' on 17 January at 5:00 PM at the atrium in VCUQatar.
Peter Chomowicz, Associate Dean for Research and academic Affairs at VCUQatar welcomed the audience to the lecture while elaborating upon the role QSTP, VCUQatar, Qatar Foundation and UNRWA would be playing at the three-day workshop, from 17 to 19 January, 2010, whose objective is to develop specific design and technology-based solutions in support of human, economic, and social development in Gaza, and in collaboration with leading international relief agencies including Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Alliance, and ANERA.
VCUQatar, together with QSTP and UNRWA are investigating how to improve living conditions in Gaza and the West Bank. The collaboration is an outgrowth of VCUQatar's Center for Research in Design's (CRID's) current research project, funded by the QSTP Proof of Concept grant, to improve the lives of Qatar's migrant workers.
Dr. Abdul Karim Jouda, Chief Special Environmental Health Programme and Acting Field Engineering and Construction Services Officer for UNRWA in Gaza, began the lecture with the facts on ground in the aftermath of the December 2008/January 2009 Israeli war on Gaza and the role UNRWA was playing in Gaza. UNRWA currently serves one million Palestine refugees of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza providing them with basic health, education and relief services.
The first part of the presentation went on to speak about the prohibition of construction materials, absence of a banking system; education system's need to be overhauled; the food aid program that benefits one million people; a job creation program that would benefit a quarter of the registered refugees and inject liquidity into Gaza's cash starved economy. Dr. Jouda also touched upon the emergency cash assistance program and the flexibility it provides UNRWA with to respond to dire situations.
Dr. Jouda stated that the number of displaced people during the war was as high as 100,000 with housing units in need of reconstruction standing at 9,167 and those with minor damage numbering to 45,000. He also spoke about the activities related to shelter repair and rehabilitation like rental subsidies and replenishment of non-food items that ensured a minimal level of dignity for the 20,000 affected families. Assessment by UNRWA staff also indicated that 53 UNRWA installations were damaged as a result of the recent war. This included 36 school compounds, seven health centers, distribution centers and sanitation offices, warehouses, offices and colleges.
Dr. Jouda also talked about the impact the conflict had on the health status of the entire Gaza population and how UNRWA plans to assist all 200,000 children at the UNRWA schools through group and individual counseling. He gave details of the funding required for all of these projects as well as those that included water, sewage and waste water networks.
The second part of Dr. Jouda's lecture focused on the infrastructure recovery in the Gaza Strip. This centered on the housing, public buildings, transportation, water, waste water and solid waste sectors and UNRWA's plans for the same taking into account the obstacles the agency faced, recovery plans as well as projects that required prioritization.
The lecture concluded with Dr. Jouda taking questions from the audience about the issues discussed during the lecture. "The people of Palestine have always been very active," said Dr. Jouda. "We are self-reliant and have never waited for outside help to any situation we've had to face. We've always been the first to come up with solutions to our problems." He explained how the UNRWA had millions of dollars allocated for reconstruction but there was no access to construction material. "Without the siege being lifted, with the Palestinian people being denied basic human rights, the current situation we are facing because of the blockade can only get worse", he said in response to a question from the audience about what he thought was in store for the future. Dr. Jouda hoped the three-day workshop would draw upon the diverse expertise of architects, planners, engineers, policy makers and scientists while putting in place the foundations for longer-term reconstruction, sustainable development and equitable growth.