U.N. Sees Bleak Outlook for Gaza Unless Services Are Improved
By Isabel Kershner, NY Times, August 28, 2012
JERUSALEM—Gaza may not be “a livable place” by 2020 unless intensive efforts are made to improve infrastructure and services in fields like energy, health, water and sanitation, a United Nations report concluded this week.
The economy of the isolated Palestinian coastal enclave will be “fundamentally unviable” in the longer term, the report added, if current circumstances continue.
Gaza’s population, now about 1.6 million Palestinians, is projected to grow to an estimated 2.1 million over the next eight years. The fundamental infrastructure of the area—a narrow coastal strip 25 miles long and 3.5 to 7.5 miles wide—“is struggling to keep pace with the needs of the growing population,” according to the report. The findings are based on data gathered by United Nations agencies and other local and international bodies.
It said that facing the challenges would require “an enabling political environment,” but did not elaborate.
Gaza has been governed since 2007 by Hamas, an Islamic militant group that rejects recognition of Israel. Israel has imposed a blockade, strictly controlling the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, and insisting that such measures are necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the area. Egypt has also limited what can cross in and out of Gaza at its border.
Tensions often spiral into rounds of cross-border violence. Several rockets fired by militants in Gaza struck southern Israel this week; one damaged a factory in the Israeli border town of Sderot. A deadly Israeli offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 destroyed or severely damaged more than 6,000 homes.
Adding to Gaza’s isolation is the schism between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Reconciliation efforts and declarations of restored unity have not produced any results.
Under international pressure Israel has eased restrictions on imports to Gaza, but exports from the enclave are still minimal, undermining efforts to build an independent, effective economy. Israel says that it is working to enable exports from Gaza to the West Bank, but that the efforts are complicated by security considerations.
“Gaza is currently kept alive through external funding and the illegal tunnel economy,” the United Nations report said, referring to the vast network of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
“With little room for further growth,” it added, “Gaza needs to be open and accessible to the world.”
Despite some economic growth last year, 80 percent of Gaza households receive some form of assistance, according to the report, and 39 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. Unemployment was 29 percent in 2011. The report said many Gazans faced food insecurity, primarily because of poverty rather than a shortage of food.
To maintain current educational and health care standards, Gaza will need an additional 440 schools by 2020 and an additional 800 hospital beds.
The enclave, which already faces regular power shortages, will need to double electricity provisions to meet demand by 2020, the report added. And with Gaza’s only aquifer already endangered, it said, a “huge investment” is required in water and sanitation infrastructure, including long-term solutions like the construction of large-scale seawater desalination plants.