Floods and a harsh winter in Gaza, but hope is still alive

22 January, 2014 | Conflict & Emergencies

Recent floods in Gaza drove thousands of people from their homes in the harshest winter in years. Outgoing Oxfam media officer Karl Schembri, has shared with us this piece, his final blog at the end of four years in Gaza. He finds that hope is still alive and people just want to provide a future for their families.

As my colleague Alhasan, an Oxfam public health worker, showed me his photos of the recent storm, there was one that felt like a stab to the heart. It showed a public garden – empty of people and completely flooded - that Oxfam built for the neglected Gaza neighbourhood of Al Zarqa.

Inside that little garden I have seen some of Palestine’s loveliest children, planting and watering trees with their eyes gleaming as one of their dreams came true. These same children previouslydrew for us a series of pictures showing the good, the bad and the ugly of their neighbourhood. A lot of the drawings shone a light on the trauma that these children witness on a daily basis because of the conflict and the blockade. Yet the drawing that grabbed most attention was of this idyllic green park, children playing blissfully under a smiling sun.

It is a long and cold winter

As I leave Gaza, it’s going through the coldest winter in my four years here, and in most of my Palestinian friends’ lifetime. Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians are trapped under a relentless blockade and face a daily struggle with shortages of power, fuel, and cooking gas. Over the winter, Gaza's infrastructure could not cope with the demand of sewage pumping stations already running at reduced capacity. Whole neighbourhoods flooded. I’m writing this by candelight as Gaza faces daily power cuts of 12 hours or more.

In the worst hit areas, fishing boats were organized to get people across the flooded areas. Thousands were unable to reach their homes. Oxfam distributed blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits to some of the people who were affected.

On an assessment of the flooded areas, we visited a food processing unit set up by women with Oxfam’s help. The storm damaged some of their raw materials and the solar-powered dryer, but it also meant they stopped production altogether for a week.

Women are keeping their families afloat

The women are so busy at work that they do not stop when they talk to us.

"It's great to get back to our work now," said Hanan, mother of five, as she busily made pastries for local schools. "We couldn't get here for a week because of the floods, and we were worried as we couldn't tell for how long they would last.

"The processing unit, which the women have set up under the brand name Amal (meaning 'hope'), is based in Deir al Balah, one of areas worst affected by the storm. In just one year, the Amal brand has established itself on the Gaza market through packaged maftoul (couscous) and warm foods made to order. Oxfam is now funding repairs to the equipment and physical damage to the processing unit.

Sabah Abu Awad, a 40-year-old mother of seven children, works here. For Sabah and her family, the storm was particularly disastrous as their already impoverished house was completely flooded. Two of her children were hospitalised with hypothermia. More than a week later, they were still living at a generous neighbour's house.

"We've lost everything, the little that we had," Sabah said. "We woke up at midnight and found everything flooded, with the children immersed in the water. My children want to go home but they are also afraid that this might happen again."

Her husband Yousef used to be an agricultural worker in Israel – until Palestinians from Gaza were banned from leaving the Strip. He said: "I put sandbags and plastic sheets on our roof to keep the rain from trickling in, and instead we got a flood that wiped our home away.”

Despite the tragic floods and the ongoing blockade, Sabah still looks at the silver lining. Her oldest daughter, aged 19, is studying at university to become a nurse. Sabah said she can only afford to send her daughter to university thanks to her earnings from the processing unit. Now she’s back to work to make sure life can get back to normal as soon as possible.

It is this sense of hope that I find so humbling and that I want to take with me as I exit Gaza for the last time in this four-year journey. Very few things change in Gaza, and I hope this quiet optimism will remain one of them.

You may also like

More on Oxfam's humanitarian response to Crisis in Gaza

Oxfam's Humanitarian Policy Notes - short summaries of how we work on key issues affecting humanitarian action

How Oxfam fights poverty


No action with impact from Oxfam or partner

I am sorry to say that we didnt see any reaction or action from Oxfam or any of their partners in the last floods in Gaza strip even the intervention was so marginal and without any impact ,  I think that people need to be more in field than to stay behind desks and send unuseful reports .

Hope we will see change in the work of humanitarian organisation that touch the humanitarian side of people


For a blog to state that a "relentless blockade" is the cause of these people's suffering is to stand reality on its head. These people suffer because their dictatorship spends most of the aid money they get on weapons to attack the Israelis, the mistreatment of minorities, Christians, and women is ongoing, extra judicial executions of political enemies, and the insistance of glorifying, training, and attempting to execute suicide terrorism against Israel. It is the Palestinian's hatred and violence that is the cause of a "relentless blockade" because without it, there would be mass murder of Israeli children throughout Israel as we saw during the Oslo Peace Process.


Your entry is so completely flawed by a lack of truth it comes across only as it is, an ignorant, bigoted rant based on groundless accusations and a total subservience to lies perpetrated by the victimhood myth of the Israeli government and its supporters. It is the Israeli government who slaughters Palestinian children, with white phosphorous explosives or withholding white flour for foodstuffs. Every week IDF snipers cut down Pasestinian children along the Gaza border in the "kill zone", kids who are playing soccer, looking for recyclables, or tending land. You can look that up too, it's no exageration, just an inconvenient fact that doesn't fit with the victimhood identity of the Israeli state. The blockade is solely the fault of the Israeli government as it imprisons 1.7 million people in a modern day concentration camp, denying them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not to mention access to their ancestral homelands. Your racist prejudice does not belong on a site devoted to fighting injustice and poverty around the world.


When a person reads a perspective they disagree with, they should debate the merits and demerits of the assertion with facts, and not by just screaming "racism" and other personal invective. I pointed out that aid money is spent on illegal weapons and missiles in Gaza and the NY Times backs my assertion:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/world/middleeast/arms-with-long-reach-bolster-hamas.html?_r=0 as it is a well known fact, nothing "racist" about it. CBS News also supports this: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-fear-iran-could-supply-hamas-in-gaza/ I also noted that Hamas kills any Gazans who are political enemies and the very left of center Huffington Post agreed: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/hamas-kills-suspected-col_n_216... You state that somehow the Israelis "cut down kids" every week who are simply playing soccer or "tending land." You said I "could look it up." Where? I googled it, I checked several news websites and nowhere is there anything about Israel simply killing kids in Gaza on a weekly basis. I also checked into Israel "witholding flour for Gaza" and found nothing of the sort. In fact, I found solid examples of Israel supplying all the needed food Gaza can handle: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/21/matt-gurney-while-hamas-f... and the Israeli foreign affairs office has published the exact statistics on aid to Gaza http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/issues/pages/israeli_humanitaria...

Before you accuse people of racism simply because they point out information that you disagree with, you should check mainstream and non ideaological web sites to see if you are justified in your beliefs. In this case, you are way off base making these absurdly exaggerated claims about the Israeli democracy.




I think Oxfam is quite wrong in its support for "Gaza". Gaza, since the Israeli's left, has been ruled by Islamic extremists. As Mr. Emery pointed out, aid money is spent on weapons and preparations for war. The blockade of Gaza port is the ONLY way Israel can prevent huge casualties, since Gaza has become a major meeting point for the most extreme Islamofascism. Blockade means that shipments are checked by Israeli police before being let into Gaza. This is ABSOLUTELY reasonable in light of the facts. If Oxfam truly wants to help Gaza, it should withdraw its support until the warmongering and hate spread by the Hamas state stops. There is no lack of money is Gaza. It is in fact, an area receiving massive investment from Arab states, Europe and the USA. Oxfam should be helping the poor of Africa. BTW, I am interested by the report of the worst winter in years. Actually, in this area, there has hardly been any rain since the first week of December 2013. The area is in drought. Please explain where this report originated.

Biased treatment of Israel

Several years ago, I carefully documented Oxfam America's coverage of global conflicts that resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians.  I found that the only other conflict that received as much damning coverage as Israel received was the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where more than 5,000,000 people had been killed.  Palestinian deaths that are attributed to Israeli actions  during that frame were about 2,200.  Half a dozen conflicts that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths didn't receive anything more than passing coverage.  In fact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn't even make it into Oxfam Protection of Civilians Report published in May 2011.  This coverage is purely political - it has nothing to do with human rights and is simply grounded in anti-Israel bias.

Really sad. If Israel didn't

Really sad. If Israel didn't exist these poor Palestines would still live under the lash of their hateful leadership.

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