UN: Gaza Could become 'Uninhabitable' by 2020
September 6, 2015
Agence France-Presse & Yousef Munayyer / Al Jazeera
Israeli military action and economic blockade have rendered the coastal strip unfit for civilian life, report says. The UN warns that if there is no change, there will be no drinkable water left in the Gaza Strip by 2016. A political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is needed to replace the corrupt policies that have brought nothing but recurring, indecisive wars to Gaza. The tiny Palestinian enclave is likely to experience a major humanitarian catastrophe long before the 2020 UN estimate.
UN: Gaza Could become 'Uninhabitable' by 2020
(September 1, 2015) -- The Gaza Strip, ravaged by successive wars and nearly a decade of Israeli blockade, could become uninhabitable for residents within just five years, the United Nations development agency said Tuesday.
"The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unliveable by 2020," the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) wrote in its annual report.
Gaza, a tiny enclave of about 225 square miles squeezed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, is home to about 1.8 million Palestinians, making it one of the most densely populated territories in the world.
While the high density is not new, the situation has been exacerbated by three Israeli military operations in the past six years and nearly a decade-long economic blockade.
The blockade had "ravaged the already debilitated infrastructure of Gaza, shattered its productive base, left no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery and impoverished the Palestinian population in Gaza," the report said.
"Short of ending the blockade, donor aid . . . will not reverse the ongoing de-development and impoverishment in Gaza," it added.
Socio-economic conditions in Gaza today are currently "at their lowest point since 1967," when Israel seized the territory from Egypt in its Six-Day War, according to the report.
The report estimated that the three military operations, including last year's devastating war that killed some 2,200 Palestinians and displaced half a million more, had caused economic losses close to three times the size of Gaza's gross domestic product.
The 2014 war, which also killed 73 Israelis, destroyed or severely damaged more than 20,000 Palestinian homes, 148 schools, 15 hospitals and 45 primary health care centers, UNCTAD said.
As many as 247 factories and 300 commercial centers were fully or partially destroyed, and Gaza's only power station sustained severe damage, it said.
Water, Unemployment Crises
Even before last year's conflict, Gaza's electricity supply was not even enough to cover 40 percent of demand, UNCTAD said, adding that 95 percent of water from coastal aquifers -- Gazans main source of freshwater -- was considered unsafe to drink.
Meanwhile, unemployment in Gaza soared last year to 44 percent – the highest level on record – hitting young women especially hard, leaving more than eight out of 10 women out of work.
A full 72 percent of all households in Gaza are struggling with food insecurity, and the number of Palestinian refugees who rely entirely on food distribution from UN agencies has ballooned from 72,000 in 2000 to 868,000 by last May.
The report also detailed the devastating effect of the economic blockade imposed by Israel after Hamas operatives captured an Israeli soldier in the summer of 2006 and tightened a year later after the armed group forcibly ousted troops loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah.
"It inflicted large-scale destruction on Gaza's local economy, productive assets and infrastructure, and affected numerous industrial, agricultural, commercial and residential facilities either directly or indirectly through debilitated infrastructure and acute shortages of inputs, water, electricity and fuel," it said.
Exports had basically been completely banned, as imports of anything besides the most basic humanitarian goods had been blocked.
The dire situation has left Gaza relying heavily on aid, but the report warned that while donor support would remain vital, it could not turn around the situation in the territory alone.
Gaza Is Already Unlivable
Yousef Munayyer / Al Jazeera
(September 4, 2015) -- The United Nations said on Sept. 1 that the Gaza Strip could become unlivable by 2020 without critical access to reconstruction and humanitarian supplies.
For Gaza's beleaguered residents, none of this is surprising. Gaza is already uninhabitable and has been on a fast track to a complete collapse. The UN issued similar warnings three years ago, even before last summer's 50-day war, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead and countless others injured -- most of them civilians.
"Three Israeli military operations in the past six years, in addition to eight years of economic blockade, have ravaged the already debilitated infrastructure of Gaza," the latest UN report said. "The most recent military operation compounded already dire socioeconomic conditions and accelerated de-development in the occupied Palestinian territory, a process by which development is not merely hindered but reversed."
Among many things, the report cited the degradation of basic water, energy, sanitation and education facilities and the region's intense overcrowding as factors that may render the tiny enclave uninhabitable by 2020.
But is anyone listening?
In October 2014, a donor conference hosted by Egypt and Norway pledged nearly $5.4 billion to the Palestinian Authority -- $1 billion more than some estimates of the damage from the war. But just $3.5 billion was for Gaza, and more than 25 percent of that sum was committed to prewar projects.
Only 8 percent, or $338 million, of the new funding has been disbursed. (Two of the biggest donors, Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- which pledged $1.5 billion for Gaza -- disbursed only 10 percent of their share.)
Donor fatigue has left Gaza's reconstruction at a standstill, and there is no political solution on the horizon. After three wars in the tiny strip, one of the few certainties in Gaza is another war within a few years.
Nearly 80 percent of Gaza's approximately 1.8 million people rely on aid agencies for daily sustenance. Unemployment is at 40 percent, more than double the level 15 years ago. Before last year's war, nearly 60 percent of the population was food insecure, 95 percent of Gaza's water is unfit for drinking and electricity is available for only a few hours a day.
This is why 2020 is a generous estimate. Gaza may experience an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe long before that date. However, despite the absence of any imaginable political solution, no one is paying attention to the desperation in the Gaza Strip.
Media attention remains focused on a diplomatic agreement with Iran and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. This ensures that residents of the besieged territory will have to find other ways to garner the world's attention again, including militancy.
The Gaza Strip is an international social experiment testing the limits of human misery. Global actors appear to be watching from afar to see how much pressure a society can endure before total collapse. Every time you think they have hit rock bottom, another round of despair is visited upon them.
The recent agreement between Iran and world powers on Tehran's nuclear program offers some hope for the people of Gaza. International attention may now return to other issues in the region, including the impoverished Palestinian strip. The movement toward normalization of US-Iran relations may serve as a building block upon which the two countries can work together toward regional stability.
Other key regional players may devote more energy toward the plight of Palestinians, since the issue remains a focal point for Arab publics and has the potential to drive regional instability.
For the people of Gaza, this hopeful development might be too far off in the future. Most people are unable to plan their lives beyond a few days, let alone five years. Unfortunately, many in Gaza will find Gaza's projected uninhabitability and their current destitute existence a distinction without a difference.
Gaza needs an urgent political and humanitarian response. One without the other is not enough. The international community has a role to play in ending Israel's continued siege of Gaza, which has only led to recurring bouts of belligerency and fed the desperation in Gaza that fuels it. Donors must come through with their pledges and send a clear and strong message to Israel that this will be the last time Gaza is rebuilt.
Ultimately, a political solution to the question of Palestine must replace the corrupt policies that have brought nothing but recurring, indecisive wars to Gaza.
Yousef Munayyer is a policy analyst at the Arab Center of Washington, D.C., and the executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
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