‘Unlike anything we have studied’: Gaza’s destruction in numbers

A boy stands in a destroyed room in a house in the Tulkarem camp for Palestinian refugees, after an Israeli military raid there, in the north of the occupied West Bank on May 7. Picture: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP

A boy stands in a destroyed room in a house in the Tulkarem camp for Palestinian refugees, after an Israeli military raid there, in the north of the occupied West Bank on May 7. Picture: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP

Published May 7, 2024


Paris, France — As well as killing more than 34,000 people and causing catastrophic levels of hunger and injury, the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas has also caused massive material destruction in Gaza.

"The rate of damage being registered is unlike anything we have studied before. It is much faster and more extensive than anything we have mapped," said Corey Scher, a PhD candidate at the City University of New York, who has been researching satellite imagery of Gaza.

As Israel launches an offensive on Rafah, the last population centre in Gaza yet to be entered by its ground troops, AFP looks at the territory's shattered landscape seven months into the war sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack.

Three-quarters of Gaza City destroyed

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, where before the war 2.3 million people had been living on a 365-square-kilometre (140-square-mile) strip of land.

According to satellite analyses by Scher and Jamon Van Den Hoek, an associate professor of geography at Oregon State University, 56.9% of Gaza buildings were damaged or destroyed as of April 21, making a total of 160,000.

"The fastest rates of destruction were in the first two to three months of the bombardment", Scher told AFP.

In Gaza City, home to some 600,000 people before the war, the situation is dire: almost three-quarters (74.3%) of its buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

Five hospitals now rubble

During the war, Gaza's hospitals have been repeatedly attacked by Israel, which accuses Hamas of using them for military purposes, a charge the militant group denies.

In the first six weeks of the war sparked by the Hamas attack, which killed more than 1,170 people according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures, “60% of healthcare facilities... were indicated as damaged or destroyed”, Scher said.

The territory's largest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, was targeted in two offensives by the Israeli army, the first in November, the second in March.

The World Health Organization said the second operation reduced the hospital to an "empty shell" strewn with human remains.

Five hospitals have been completely destroyed, according to figures compiled by AFP from the OpenStreetMap project, the Hamas health ministry and the United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT). Fewer than one in three hospitals — 28% — are partially functioning, according to the UN.

Gaza is suffering an unfolding humanitarian crisis, nearly seven months after Israel launched a devastating offensive in response to the Oct 7 Hamas-led attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel. Graphic shows levels of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip.

Over 70% of schools damaged

The territory's largely UN-run schools, where many civilians have sought refuge from the fighting, have also paid a heavy price.

As of April 25, UNICEF counted 408 schools damaged, representing at least 72.5% of its count of 563 facilities.

Of those, 53 school buildings have been completely destroyed and 274 others have been damaged by direct fire.

The UN estimates that two-thirds of the schools will need total or major reconstruction to be functional again.

Regarding places of worship, combined data from UNOSAT and OpenStreetMap show 61.5% of mosques have been damaged or destroyed.

More bombed-out than Dresden

The level of destruction in northern Gaza has surpassed that of the German city of Dresden, which was firebombed by Allied forces in 1945 in one of the most controversial Allied acts of World War II.

According to a US military study from 1954, quoted by the Financial Times, the bombing campaign at the end of World War II damaged 59 percent of Dresden's buildings.

In late April, the head of the UN mine clearance programme in the Palestinian territories, Mungo Birch, said there was more rubble to clear in Gaza than in Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia more than two years ago.

The UN estimated that as of the start of May, the post-war reconstruction of Gaza would cost between 30 billion and 40 billion dollars.