27 November 2012
"I witnessed bombing in front of me", recalls Ahmad Hamada, a 21-year-old sanitation labourer for UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. "But I continued doing my job. We will risk our lives for the safety of the people."
Under dangerous conditions during the eight days of conflict in Gaza, UNRWA's sanitation labourers continued to clean waste and an increasing amount of rubble from Gaza’s eight refugee camps, risking their lives to provide a critical service for refugees in the Strip.
Waste collection is essential for public health and to prevent the spread of disease, but it is also one of the most dangerous jobs during times of conflict, requiring the gathering of trash outside and movement from one place to another under bombings and air strikes. During last week’s conflict, the streets of Gaza were deserted. Everyone kept indoors; everyone, except UNRWA’s sanitation labourers.
"Naturally I was afraid"
Ahmad was not the only person to witness first-hand the dangers of the conflict and press on with his work. Walid Subah says, "Naturally I was afraid. I feared for myself but also for the other workers. But if we did not carry on cleaning, disease would have spread."
Walid Subah lives three kilometres away from the local sanitation office. Unable to travel by car, he walked to work daily during the conflict.
Attia Sahloul shares the commitment of his colleagues to Gaza’s refugees. "We take care of the people, even in this difficult environment", he says.
Service delivery under fire
During the recent escalation, UNRWA continued to provide solid waste collection in all eight refugee camps in Gaza. Despite the danger, UNRWA’s staff voluntarily reported to work, ensuring that waste didn’t accumulate in Gaza’s beleaguered streets. Last Wednesday alone, the sanitation workers collected 225 tonnes of waste; 75 per cent in comparison to a normal day.
During the conflict, waste was disposed in temporary dumping sites, as landfills were too far from the camps and accessing them would have put UNRWA staff under unnecessary risk. Now that the environment is safer, UNRWA will work with the sanitation labourers to ensure that the waste is treated properly; helping, in turn, to speed up Gaza’s recovery from the most recent bout of violence.
Read more: Emergency in Gaza