UN: Gaza Strip could become uninhabitable by 2020

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report charges that Operation Protective Edge and Israel's blockade of Gaza have debilitated Gaza's economy.

A Palestinian boy plays at a house that witnesses said was destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in the east of Gaza City (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian boy plays at a house that witnesses said was destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in the east of Gaza City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
uninhabitable within five years unless Israeli restrictions on goods and people going in and out of the Strip are fully lifted, warns a new report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, located in Geneva.
The population of the small coastal enclave is rising, but vital resources such as water and electricity are decreasing, said the report, which was drafted in July but released on Tuesday. Donor funding is helpful, but cannot salvage the situation without the restoration of the Gaza economy, the report said.
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Already in 2012, a UN study predicted that Gaza’s population would increase from 1.6 million in 2011 to 2.1 million in 2020, the report said. It added that “for Gaza to be a livable place in 2020 ‘herculean efforts’ needed to be accelerated in such sectors as health, education, energy, water and sanitation. However, instead of such efforts, the tragedy in Gaza has deteriorated and its de-development was accelerated by destruction in 2014.”
Israeli border restrictions, along with the physical devastation resulting from the three military conflicts between the IDF and Hamas in the last eight years, have harmed the economy so much that Palestinians living there are more impoverished in 2015 than they were before the Oslo Accords, the report said.
“Per capita GDP in Gaza is at 72 percent of the level in 1994,” the report said, adding that unemployment in 2014 was at 44% and that food insecurity affects 72% of the Gaza households.
The number of Palestinian refugees reliant on food distributions from the UN Relief and Works Agency has jumped from 72,000 in the year 2000, to 868,000 as of May 2015, the report said.
Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants rely on coastal aquifers as their main source of fresh water, yet 95% of this water is not safe to drink, the report stated.
Figures from 2012 showed that Gaza’s electrical capacity was not enough to meet 40% of the demand.
Exacerbating the problem has been Israel’s refusal for the last two decades to allow the Palestinian Authority to develop and use the offshore natural gas fields off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, the report stated.
It called for reinstating the Agreement on Movement and Access that Israel and the PA signed in 2005. That agreement, which allowed for the flow of goods and people, became moot when Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza in 2007 in a bloody coup. For that agreement to be reinstated, Hamas would have to allow Fatah to man the Gaza borders along with Israel.
Similarly the report called for reconnecting Gaza with the West Bank, and for increased donor aid.
“If the current blockade and insufficient levels of donor support persist, even with a reversion to the status quo that prevailed before the latest military operation, Gaza will become economically unviable and the already grim socioeconomic conditions can only deteriorate,” the report said.
“The likely outcome will be more conflict, mass poverty, high unemployment, shortages of electricity and drinking water, inadequate health care and a collapsing infrastructure.
In short, Gaza will be unlivable,” the report said.
The IDF launched Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in July 2014 to stop rocket fire and the threat of attack tunnels.
Israel controls two of Gaza’s three borders, and Egypt is in charge of the third. Restrictions on those borders have been in place since 2007, both for security reasons and to cripple Hamas economically.
IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai told the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency on Tuesday that Hamas was seizing construction imports to the Gaza Strip and using the materials to build tunnels to attack Israel.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.