Upscaling under blockade: Damaged vehicles get a new lease on life

31 December 2022
Upscaling under blockade: Damaged vehicles get a new lease on life
The Palestine refugee technician team working to reuse spare parts at the UNRWA Maintenance Workshop in Gaza. © 2022 UNRWA Photo by Rami Bulbul

After an eight-year ban on the repair of automobiles in Israel, UNRWA technicians in Gaza began to salvage spare parts from the damaged cars. Upcycling these parts to repair other vehicles in need, these technicians are using sustainable methods of recycling to extend the lives of the motor vehicles in their care, countering the consequences of the 15-year blockade on the Gaza Strip. The process starts when a car is no longer runs, having come to the end of its functional life. Instead of buying new parts, which are limited on the local market, the technicians find ways to incorporate salvageable existing parts from other vehicles Parts that do not find a new home in another vehicle are upcycled as training material for students in the Agency’s technical and vocational training centres.

On average, between two-three cars reach the end of their use cycle each year. The Agency’s team of 35 technicians then begin a process of cannibalization. Anything left over at the end of the evaluation is sent to a steel mill to be recycled.

Sami Janem, 58, has worked as an UNRWA automotive electrician for 28 years. “In the winter season, I receive 10-15 vehicles on a daily basis, since many problems occur in vehicles [during this time], with the drop in temperatures causing dead batteries. Recently, we started to handle a number of electronic problems using computers and iPads, because vehicles’ electronic systems are constantly developing. Yet, we work with the minimum hard/software required to maintain the newly developed vehicle systems.”


Salama Al-Wahidi, a 56-year-old Palestine refugee, has worked with UNRWA as a vehicle mechanical assistant for 33 years. Salama performs periodic and urgent maintenance on vehicles based on a unified schedule. “Our work is critical, especially when it comes to unexpected repairs to sanitation vehicles. As long as we are notified about the issue, our team are first responders, moving fast to make repairs. They often venture out to landfills to repair the vehicles. This happens on almost a daily basis, as our vehicles go off-road to reach landfills. Any delay in the maintenance of these vehicles means suspending services provided to refugees. I am proud of the work we are doing here!” said Salama.


Fahed Ghaben, a 55-year-old, has also worked for UNRWA 33 years. Responsible for bodywork repairs and painting, he is enthusiastic about his contribution to the UNRWA fleet. “UNRWA buses transport 55-60 groups of staff and students on daily basis, in addition to enabling other UNRWA services, such as mobile dental clinics and food and goods trucks. These vehicles require regular annual maintenance. I used to take spare parts from the damaged vehicles to repair similar ones and this works well. It actually saves me time, instead of having to wait to receive new parts that are often expensive and almost not available on the local market,” he said.


“By taking into account the shortage of car parts on the local market, we make use of residual materials at hand to consume less and avoid buying new, expensive parts. The cannibalization process contributes to savings for the Agency, not only in terms of money but also time,” said Hani Abu Watfa, an UNRWA Vehicle Maintenance Officer. “The benefits to the environment through the reduction of waste has become a driving force in sustainability and pollution removal.”

“It has been eight years since we have received new vehicles to fill the gap,” highlighted, Mahmoud El-Far, an UNRWA Fleet Management Officer. Thanks to these innovative techniques, the workshop is able to maintain some 530 functional vehicles, serving millions of Palestine refugees with food assistance, as well as access to health care and education.