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Unemployment Troubles Middle East - 2003-05-01

The International Labor Organization says reconstruction in Iraq and the new effort to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could help reduce unemployment in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

A senior official of the International Labor Organization, Samir Radwan, says he is hopeful that the rebuilding of Iraq, along with the so-called "roadmap for peace" between Israel and the Palestinians will provide opportunities to reverse serious unemployment in Iraq and the Palestinians territories

"If the reconstruction efforts are done in a proper way, I think that can be a fantastic source of creating jobs," he said. "With the Palestinians, today in fact as we are talking, there is a window of opportunity. If the roadmap is applied, as you know, the road map has three stages. The first stage is to ease the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, to increase perhaps the permits of Palestinians workers to go back to Israel. There used to be 120,000 now there are about 20 to 30,000. If you ease also the closure that would also revive the economic situation."

Mr. Radwan says if the road map is adopted by Israel and the Palestinians, unemployment in the Palestinian territories, currently at 67 percent, could be significantly reduced. He adds this would encourage the new Palestinian leadership to go ahead with reforms to help normalize the situation.

Mr. Radwan says as a consequence of the high rates of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza, wages and incomes there have declined drastically. He adds that the poverty rate in the territories has climbed to between 50 and 60 percent since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000. Most Palestinians live on less than two dollars a day.

Turning to Iraq, the labor analyst says unemployment was high before the war, with about four million people out of work, but he says that number has grown dramatically since the war.

But Mr. Radwan adds that unemployment is not just a problem in the Palestinian territories or Iraq. He says Arab countries, on average, have an unemployment rate of about 20 percent, the highest rate of any region in the world.