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UN Says Gaza Could Become Uninhabitable by 2020

Palestinian children look out of their homes at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, Sept. 3, 2018.

A UN report finds Israel’s decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip is making it impossible for the Palestinians in the enclave to develop their economy. The UN Conference on Trade and Development warns this tiny territory could soon become unfit for humans to live in by 2020 if current trends are not reversed. UNCTAD has released its annual report on its assistance to the Palestinian people.

The report finds unemployment in the occupied Palestinian territory stands at 27 percent, the highest in the world. It says women and young people are most severely affected.

UNCTAD Coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, Mahmoud Elkhafif, says the agricultural sector is hardest hit by the deteriorating economic situation.

FILE - Egyptian Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD, Officer-in-charge of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, Geneva, Switzerland.
FILE - Egyptian Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD, Officer-in-charge of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, Geneva, Switzerland.

“There is a study indicating that the Gaza sector lost between 35 and 45 percent of the productivity in the agricultural sector," said Elkhafif. "And as we know, the agricultural sector is the cushion for the economy, which basically absorbs the unemployed. And, you can imagine the impact.”

The report blames declining economic prospects in Gaza and the West Bank largely on Israeli restrictions on movement, which make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to work in Israel and on the steep drop in donor support.

The report warns living conditions in Gaza continue to worsen. It says the territory’s longstanding electricity crisis has deepened, with households receiving only two hours of electricity a day. It says only 10 percent of the population has access to adequate drinking water.

UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General, Isabelle Durant calls the situation unsustainable.

“It is unsustainable because electricity, because water, because poverty, because young people and women are completely forgotten in this social development process, even cultural development process," said Durant. "So, I am not so optimistic, even if I know that it is not new. Of course, it is not new. But, it is every year a little bit more difficult.”

To ensure a sustainable recovery, authors of the report say Israel must lift its blockade completely and the economies of Gaza and the West Bank must be reunified. UNCTAD says the economy of the territory could grow by up to 10 percent simply by removing Israeli restrictions on Palestinian trade and investment.