The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Filippo Grandi, laid the cornerstone today for an innovative project to construct an environmentally friendly, zero-emission ‘green school’ in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. The project has come about after intensive work by the Agency’s engineers in cooperation with Italian design firm Mario Cucinella Architects and with the generous support of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, through the Islamic Development Bank.
Addressing the local dignitaries and staff gathered at a tree-planting event to inaugurate the project, Mr. Grandi stated: “I am very happy to be here today in Khan Younis to officially launch this project, the first of its kind in the region. The well-documented environmental challenges in Gaza, particularly in regards to water and power, were behind this new approach, and as this is my last visit to Gaza in my capacity as the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, I am especially pleased to be able to draw attention to this new direction, a small but important step in alleviating some of the very real challenges facing Gaza.”
The concept of the ‘green school’ refers to a stand-alone school building, which relies only on renewable, free, locally available resources (rainwater and solar and ground energy) instead of being hooked up to local water networks and energy grids. The design of the project promotes the use of affordable and locally available materials, as well as simple construction systems.
In August 2012, the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory issued Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place?, a report that very clearly outlined some of the main challenges facing the Strip over the coming years. Two of the most serious issues are power and water; even today, the population of Gaza only has power about 50 per cent of the time, and while demand is growing rapidly, supply is limited, and shortages are expected to increase. More than 90 per cent of the water in Gaza, virtually all of which is sourced from the coastal aquifer, is already not potable, and estimates are that the aquifer will be effectively unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020.
Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, said: “This project is particularly appropriate for Gaza, given the environmental situation and the rapid deterioration of, in particular, the water situation. While we focus a great deal of attention on the economic impact of the ongoing blockade, we also need to be thinking of ways to address these environmental challenges.” In 2013, UNRWA released Gaza in 2020: An Operational Response, which detailed how the Agency can contribute to resolving some of the imminent challenges facing the Gaza Strip.
The construction of the Kuwaiti Green School is another example of tireless UNRWA efforts to provide the best possible services for Palestine refugees in Gaza while also contributing solutions to some of the Gaza Strip’s most pressing environmental challenges.