In 2012, a United Nations (UN) report made headlines when it projected that the Gaza Strip would be “unlivable” by 2020. Last week, a new UN report, released on the tenth anniversary of Israel’s crippling siege of the territory, revealed that this projection was overly optimistic.
According to the new assessment, the indicators tracked in 2012 have “deteriorated even further and faster than anticipated.” This acceleration towards the “unlivable” is primarily a result of the same structural issues that have caused Gaza’s “trajectory of de-development” over the last decade: Israel’s siege and Palestinian political division, compounded by repeated Israeli military assaults.
The 2012 report and the 2017 update evaluated nine key indicators. Amongst these are population size and density, real GDP per capita, unemployment rate, energy provision, health services, safe drinking water and the state of Gaza’s water aquifer. All nine indicators are worse in 2017 than the 2012 report estimated.
As of the report’s publication, only 3.9% of the aquifer’s water is drinkable. Without immediate steps, the report warns that Gaza’s aquifer will be irreversibly damaged this year.
From 2000 to 2014, access to safe drinking water in Gaza plummeted from 98.3% to 10.5%. Non-drinking water is scarce, as well. Half of the population of Gaza receives water from the grid for eight hours every four days. The remaining half receives water slightly more often: eight hours every two or three days. As a result, reliance on trucked water, water tanks and bottled water rose from 1.4% to 89.6%, which the report found is fifteen to twenty times more expensive that water from the grid.
This dire water situation is further compounded by the ongoing electricity crisis. In addition to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to no longer finance Gaza’s electric supply, Israel’s blockade of the territory has led to a severe shortage in fuel supplies, causing Gaza’s sole power plant to operate at only minimal capacity. To put this in perspective, an 11 year-old child has not experienced more than 12 hours of electricity in a single day in his/her lifetime, the report found.
The blockade, and the resulting electricity and water crises have badly impacted the medical sector. The number of hospital beds, nurses and doctors per capita has decreased since 2012. The report estimates that, in order to return the level of service that existed in 2010, Gaza’s hospitals would need to add 1,000 more beds, doctors and nurses. However, since the level of care available in 2010 was itself inadequate, even more of each is likely needed.
Furthermore, restrictions on importing medical supplies and equipment by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have meant that patients in need of care for certain illnesses must be transferred out of the territory. Obtaining a permit, however, is a difficult and lengthy process fraught with delays, which have led to the death of patients.
Schools are also suffering. The number of teachers and classrooms per student have decreased since 2012 and the amount of classroom time per student remains a dismal four hours. The 2012 report projected that 250 schools were needed immediately and 190 more by 2020 to meet demands. Since 2012, however, only thirty-three government and twenty-four UNRWA schools were built. The UN now says that Gaza needs 900 new schools by 2030.
Intimately tied to deteriorating service-provision is the dire situation of Gaza’s economy. The 2012 report indicated that Gaza’s real GDP could increase around 1%, perhaps reaching 7% if restrictions on the movement of goods and people were lifted. However, the continued existence of these restrictions, compounded by the 2014 conflict during which Israel targeted Palestinian industry, has resulted in a decrease in real GDP per capita, from $1,165 in 2012 to $1,038 in 2017. The latest report predicts a slight increase in 2020, up to $1,058, but this depends on a resolution of the current energy crisis by the end of 2017 and subsequent economic recovery.
Employment and poverty rates mirror this worrying trend. Since Israel instituted its blockade in 2007, Gaza lost 95% of its industrial sector due to the ban on exports. The unemployment rate, which sat at a staggeringly high 29% in 2011, rose to 42% in 2016. The report estimates it will rise to 44.4% by 2020. To prevent this number from increasing further, Gaza needs to add 24,000 new jobs per year until 2020, increasing to 27,000 for 2020-2025. The poverty rate has also increased from 30% in 2004, before the siege, to 40% today. With little employment and next to no income, 47% of Gazans suffer from food insecurity.
The report describes how the repeated major conflicts have compounded Gaza’s de-development. The 2014 Israeli assault, for example, damaged 171,000 houses, 17,800 of them were completely destroyed, and displaced 100,000 people.
In order to change the dire projections and make Gaza livable, immediate intervention must take place, including significant humanitarian aid. However, the report makes the crucial point that focusing on rebuilding distracts from the structural issues that Gaza faces: the Israeli blockade and the impact of Palestinian political division. No matter the amount of aid, and unless these issues are addressed, Gaza’s crises will persist indefinitely.