Building Sustainable Schools in Palestine’s Gaza Strip

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By Carl Frankel at Green Futures

Palestine’s Gaza Strip will soon have as many as 20 ‘eco schools’, with light and power supplied by solar and geothermal sources. Designed by Italian green architect Mario Cucinella, the schools will also harvest rain and recycle greywater to minimise reliance on the area’s scarce water supplies. They will incorporate traditional Islamic features such as mashrabiya screens for shading and ventilation.

At US$2 million per building, the schools don’t come cheap, but this is reportedly par for the course in Gaza, in part due to the high costs resulting from Israel’s economic isolation of the Strip. The first will be built in Khan Younis, in the south of the Strip, with funding from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development. Construction is expected to begin later this year once the Israeli authorities have approved the importation of required materials. A more comprehensive eco-schools plan, including the adoption of green guidelines for retrofitting and construction, will be developed once the pilot is complete.

The scheme emerged out of a partnership between the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA – which supports Palestinian refugees) and Cucinella’s architecture firm, which is providing its services on a pro bono basis. According to Ugo Bot, senior external relations and projects manager for UNWRA, “We share the belief that environmentally friendly technologies and the green economy can represent the path toward sustainable development in Gaza and beyond.”

Such an approach is particularly relevant for Palestine, says Khaled Sabawi, founder of local green energy company MENA Geothermal. The territory’s energy prices “are among the most expensive in the region” he says, “and our population growth rates are 3.9% in Gaza and 2.9% in the West Bank. At this rate, by 2050, our population density will exceed that of Bangladesh. Fifty to sixty percent of our population is under 25. These people need to be schooled and housed.” The occupation has had a stifling effect on the economy, he says, leaving it heavily dependent on donor programmes – many of which are far from sustainable. “They look to the cheapest solution and have high energy and environmental costs.” By contrast, says Sabawi, “this programme will support energy independence and help a generation of young people become more energy-aware.”

This article originally appeared in Green Futures, the magazine of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future.