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UNRWA Partners with Award-Winning Architect to Build an Innovative Green School in Gaza


By: Neema Mgana, UNRWA

In 2011, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) entered into a unique partnership with Mario Cucinella Architects (MCA), an Italian architectural firm specializing in green buildings and sustainable urban planning, to build the first zero carbon school in the Gaza Strip. The school, called the “Green School”, will rely solely on free and locally available resources (i.e. rainwater, solar and ground energy) to provide more comfortable learning conditions, sustainable access to electricity and improved access to clean water for over 2,000 children in the area of Khan Younis (Southern part of the Gaza Strip).

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, pending a solution to their plight. UNRWA operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East, with nearly 700 schools, 500,000 students, and 19,000 staff. The Agency has been the main provider of free-of-charge basic education to Palestine refugees for over sixty years.

The Green School was conceived with the goal of offering better learning conditions to children in Gaza, while addressing key environmental challenges. As described in a report issued by the United Nations in August 2012 entitled “Gaza in 2020: a livable place?”, if current trends are not reversed, Gaza risks becoming an unlivable place by the year 2020 with the population bearing the brunt caused by the blockade and suffering the combined effects of growing demographics, a polluted environment and unsustainable construction practices.

The report also stresses that by the year 2020, the population of Gaza will increase from an estimated 1.6 million people to around 2.1 million. As a result, the population growth rate will put additional pressure on the living area, which is restricted and already heavily urbanized. Four hundred and forty four additional schools will be required to cover the projected increase in students’ population.
“This project is a first for UNRWA, which we hope will lead to the creation of environmentally friendly schools in the five areas where we work not just in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi.

The benefit of the Green school in Gaza includes:

  • 60 percent reduction in water demand resulting in savings of over USD 10,000 per year
  • Stable supply of clean electricity all day, every day through 400m2 of photovoltaic panels resulting in savings of over USD 8,600 per year
  • An internal temperature 4 degrees Celsius lower in summer than the outside
  • In winter, classrooms heated with a clean heating system using 140 m2 solar thermal panels

The Green School in Gaza is the result of a partnership between UNRWA and MCA. The collaboration is based on the shared objective of improving the urban environment of Palestine Refugee communities through sustainable camp development and the enhancement of sub-standard infrastructure and accommodations.

To address these environmental constraints, the Green School will be built with a climate responsive design, capable of maintaining high visual and thermal comfort throughout the year. The school will be equipped with photovoltaic panels for the production of electricity, a solar heater plant for energy production, a system for the harvesting of rainwater and two wetlands for the recycling of wastewater. The building will host 32 classrooms distributed on three floors for a total capacity of 2000 children divided in two shifts.

The project-design was developed and refined over a period of two years (2011-13) in close consultation with UNRWA. It has benefited from essential inputs and recommendations by engineers in the Gaza Field Office and by architects in UNRWA’s Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Department in Amman. In November 2011, UNRWA and MCA unveiled the design of the Gaza Green School during a Press Conference organized at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban South Africa.

The Green School project intends to address three main strategic objectives:

  • Provide students in Gaza with a more conducive learning environment resulting from architectural solutions that guarantee better ventilation, insulation and visual comfort;
  • Ensure equitable and sustainable access to electricity and clean water through green technologies, rain harvesting and water recycling systems;
  • Encourage the adoption in Gaza of more sustainable building practices through processes of knowledge transfer benefiting UNRWA engineers and the construction sector in Gaza.
  • The Green School’s construction costs are estimated to be about 20% higher than a regular school in Gaza. While complying with the functional requirements prescribed for standard UNRWA educational facilities, the Green School introduces in Gaza low- tech/high performance building solutions and green technologies that, if mainstreamed, can work as catalysts for a human-centered transformation of Gaza Strip’s urban environment and for the regeneration of its natural ecosystems.

    The longer-term objective of the initiative in Gaza is to serve as a pilot project for the introduction of new green building practices in Gaza as a response to the environmental, energy and infrastructure crisis affecting the Palestinian coastal area.

    For more information, please contact: Neema Mgana, Consultant, Partnership Division, Department for External Relations and Communication, UNRWA