A report by the United Nations (UN) has deemed the Gaza strip as on track to be “unlivable” by 2020. The report, written by Robert Piper, references another UN report from 2012 that concerned projections about the quality of life and infrastructure. Piper says that not only are these projections on track but are in fact worse than previously forecast.
Gaza, a small strip of Palestinian land lying by the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, is projected to suffer further declines in incomes, healthcare, education and electricity. All have declined at a worse rate than predicted in 2012 and it is possible that some damage may prove irreversible.
In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the legislative council. Tensions between Fatah and Hamas increased. The National Unity Government was established in 2007 but dissolved by President Abbas a few months later. This led to more confrontations and ultimately a takeover by Hamas and the expulsion of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. Hamas’ violent rule led to an Israeli blockade. No presidential or legislative elections have taken place since 2006. Between the violence from Hamas, the retaliations from Israeli forces and the restriction of goods entering and leaving the territory, Gaza’s infrastructure and population have suffered immensely.
The population has grown faster than expected, 400,000 since 2012, raising the population to 2 million. It is projected to be 2.2 million by 2020 and 3.1 million by 2030. The economy and infrastructure are struggling to keep up. GDP has decreased instead of increasing by 0.6-1.5% as projected. The poverty level is at 40% and the GDP ten-year average growth rate reached only 2.8%. Comparatively, West Bank has a 6.9% average.
The combination of high unemployment levels and an increasing population could have damaging results. Unemployment in 2020 could end up as low as 44%. Gaza also has one of the youngest populations in the world. 43% are under 15 years old. There is also one of the lowest female labour forces in the world.
The agricultural annual average between 2000 and 2006 reached $18 million but in 2014 it fell as low as $2.2 million. Despite food assistance and other forms of social transfers, one million Palestinians in Gaza are “moderately-to-severely food insecure”. Fishing is heavily restricted by Israeli forces and locals have difficulty accessing chemicals that would extend food shelf life. Additionally, the options to export as well as import are limited.
The question of electricity demand and supply is critical. The demand is currently 450MW. Supply, however, has stayed at 210 MW since 2006 coming from a mixture of the Gaza Power Plant, Israeli Electricity Company, as well as Egypt. In April 2017, supply dropped to 120 MW. As a result, Gaza experiences 20 hours of blackouts a day. Demand increase is projected anywhere between 550 MW and 850 MW.
Access to drinking water was one of the major issues highlighted in Piper’s report. Access to safe public water decreased from 93.3% in 2000 to 10.5% in 2014 which has made the reliance on bottled and tank water increase from 1.4% to 89.6%. Water that is imported in can be 15-20 times more expensive and as result the poor are most affected.
There is a lack of wastewater treatment and every day 43 Olympics swimming pools-worth of “poorly treated sewage” is dumped into the Mediterranean. This is forecast to increase by 20% by 2020.
Piper forecasts that by 2020 Gaza’s coastal aquifer will be damaged beyond repair. The supply of water is not meeting the World Health Organisation standards of 100 litres per person a day. 73 MCM would be needed to meet this but currently it stands at a 58.32 MCM, 80% of the requirement. This will worsen with population growth. Living situations will be severely affected and the risk of waterborne illness will increase. There is a great deficit in hospital resources and although the UNRWA have dedicated help in health and education, it is not enough.
Human right violations by Hamas have become a daily fact of life. Harassment, arrests, torture and death are common. Tensions on the Access Restricted Areas, the borders of which often change without much communication to the locals, have led to shootings of innocents and farmers that work in the fields nearby.
In 2017, says Piper, there are 1.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Since the strip is under Hamas control and away from the legitimate Palestinian Authority, many humanitarian efforts do not get very far. Many projects are short-term. “The measures,” Piper claims, “needed to move towards more sustainable recovery and development remain elusive if not off limits.” The UN and their humanitarian partners are requesting $371 million for assistance to Gaza.