Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Immediate Action Needed for Gaza to be Livable in 2020, Says UN Report

Eight years from now, the Gaza Strip will have “virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline, and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory for most,” according to a United Nations report released last month.

The bleak assessment concludes that without immediate action to address immense and interconnected economic, demographic, environmental, infrastructure, and social challenges facing Gazans, “the already high number of poor, marginalized and food-insecure people depending on assistance will not have changed, and in all likelihood will have increased.”

The Political Dimension

The basic problem faced by the 139 square mile strip bounded by Israel and Egypt can be summed up fairly succinctly: Gaza will have to support more people with fewer resources using infrastructure already buckling under pressure while under severe restrictions for building more.

A number of factors contribute to the dismal outlook, but the report singles “the current political status quo” for particular emphasis. The basic infrastructure and demographic issues are challenges no matter what, but the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza’s borders and continuing conflict with Israel make normal movement of goods and people much more difficult.

However, while acknowledging the role that politics plays in Gaza’s plight, the report leaves an in-depth analysis of their complexity to others and instead keeps a strict focus on the problems affecting everyday life, from food and water insecurity to high unemployment and a lack of basic health, sanitation, and education services.

More People, Fewer Resources

With a total fertility rate of 4.9 children per women as of 2010 the population of the Gaza strip is expected to grow by nearly one-third in the next eight years, from 1.6 million people today to 2.1 million. Population density would be 5,835 people per square kilometer in 2020, placing the territory just behind the city-states of Macao, Singapore, and Hong Kong as the most densely populated in the world and making it nearly 15 times denser than Israel with far less developed infrastructure.

Gaza’s population has outpaced economic growth since the 1990s, with real per capita GDP shrinking by 88 percent in spite of GDP growing by 23 percent in 2011 alone.

Similarly, unemployment is worse now than it was in the 1990s, at 29 percent. Women and young people are disproportionately affected, with 27 percent of women and 58 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds out of work. The report credits the five-year-old blockade of Gaza’s borders as “one of the main reasons” for economic and employment shortfalls. Without jobs at home, and without the ability to emigrate in search of work elsewhere, “social tension, violence and extremism” could become “possible outlets for lack of meaningful prospects,” the report warns.

Jobs, classrooms, hospital beds, and electricity are already in short supply. “By 2020, electricity provision will need to double to meet demand…and hundreds of new schools and expanded health services will be needed for an overwhelmingly young population,” according to the report. “Tens of thousands of housing units are needed today.”

An immense undertaking would be needed to bring supply of these critical infrastructure components in line with current demand, much less the demand projected for 2020. Limited land, intense urbanization, the blockade, and insecurity make needed infrastructure projects extremely difficult to achieve, however.

Approaching Water and Food Insecurity

Water and food supplies, already stretched thin, will also become increasingly scarce over the next eight years. More