Preparing for and responding to disaster hazards in situations of fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) adds another level of complexity and hazards for disaster risk management (DRM) experts and practitioners. This has been a reality for urban planners in cities in the West Bank and Gaza, as their ability to develop and provide adequate urban services—including disaster planning and response mechanisms—is being outpaced by a rapidly growing urban population.

Gaza City presents a series of unique challenges due to the ongoing conflict, resulting in a humanitarian crisis, continuous large-scale damage to urban services, and a severe economic situation limiting the municipality’s functionality. This is compounded by rapid urbanization and worsening environmental conditions. All of these factors have left the city in a state of constant emergency. Any rise in tension between Gaza and Israel increases the potential for destructive escalation, and the region has been the frequent target of airstrikes during surges in conflict in 2014, 2019, and 2021. 

Because of Gaza City’s high population density, these airstrikes regularly damage or destroy key urban infrastructure, including hospitals and health centers, water and sanitation facilities, energy and communications networks, and transportation. Furthermore, municipal authorities and urban planning experts in Gaza face stringent technological restrictions on access to certain urban planning tools and technology that are vital to tracking urban growth, fulfilling operations and maintenance (O&M) tasks, and identifying exposure to disaster hazards. The volatile nature of this conflict makes long-term planning extremely difficult, as any progress can be negated by a sudden surge in hostilities.

As a result of restrictions on access to modern data management and urban planning tools—such as orthophotos, ground penetrating radar (GPR), surveying equipment, and so on—as well as the inability to travel and collect best practices from other disaster management experts, it has been very difficult for Gaza City urban planners to gain the knowledge and expertise necessary to keep pace with the city’s growing urban and DRM challenges. The lack of available data has precluded government authorities such as the Gaza City Municipality from developing a much-needed city master plan and, in turn, emergency response plans aimed at improving urban resilience. The Gaza City municipal government has been working with the World Bank’s Integrated Cities and Urban Development (ICUD) to build its expertise in order to plan for sustainable urban growth based on digital data and capacity-building. In the context of this cooperation, GFDRR has contributed a component dedicated specifically to improving the resilience of urban systems to chronic and acute shocks to ensure the continuity of basic services to Gaza residents, especially the poor and most vulnerable, whether these shocks are caused by natural disasters or the resumption of hostilities. This technical assistance was provided under GFDRR’s Improving Resilience of Urban Service Systems for Gaza City activity.

GFDRR’s intervention focused on addressing the challenges of outdated data by updating existing databases at the Gaza City municipal level, addressing data gaps, conducting spatial and sectoral analysis, and supporting an assessment of DRM capacities for Gaza City—including conducting risk analytics for flooding hazards and beach contamination and erosion. As a result of the extensive data collection activities and the technical analysis provided under this activity, the Gaza City Municipality has been able to increase its capacities to address weaknesses in municipal-level resilience and to develop a resilience plan. Training sessions were provided on basic DRM concepts as well as hazard mapping, which were found to be especially helpful by city officials as they start to re-think how they can integrate resilient planning throughout Gaza City.

A resilience training course was given via weekly online (not in person because of pandemic-related closures) sessions for Gaza municipal and ministerial staff. A Gaza City Resilience Plan and 35 hazard, exposure, and vulnerability maps were developed in collaboration with the municipality, resulting in a wealth of additional knowledge resources. The activities, reports, and municipal data produced under this activity were all shared with the municipality and the Ministry of Local Government, creating a new repository of accurate data that can be used in the development of Gaza City’s resilience plan and the master and strategic development plan under the parent ICUD activity.

The ICUD parent project is working with the Gaza City Municipality to build on the data gathered and to use this data for more resilient and informed interventions in the municipality. The World Bank team is also looking for additional funding to support the municipality’s efforts to implement some of the activities being identified in the Resilience Plan. The municipality continues to use these data, layers, and map to further refine its resilience plan.

Lesson Learned

The challenges in developing urban resilience in Gaza City are inextricably tied to the ongoing conflict and the difficulty of long-term planning in a volatile environment. In this context, responses to both conflict and nature- induced shocks have significant interlinkages and require a proactive approach to mitigate the impact of these shocks as much as possible. Disaggregated, quality, and actionable urban data can make a significant difference in preparing for and responding to these emergencies, but just as important is the ability to access the latest developments and analytical capacities to better process and use these data. Hence, it is vital to use all available means of communication with policy makers and stakeholders, especially in FCV contexts, to maintain access to critical expertise. Despite this being a World Bank–implemented activity, it is important to place the client at the center of these activities in order to generate a sense of ownership and interest to make full use of the outputs.