Gaza’s People and Economy in Peril
This short report review’s The Gaza Strip’s human and economic conditions. The World Bank and the United Nations are the main sources for all information and statistics compiled here.
For more information on the blockade of the Gaza Strip, read an earlier post titled ‘Siege of Gaza‘.
Over 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs live in the the Gaza Strip, an area that is only 360 km2 in area (139 sq. miles). The Gaza Strip is about 40 km long and on average 10 km wide. This makes Gaza one of the most densely populated regions on earth. The problem of overcrowding is compounded by it having one of the fastest growth rates globally.
Gaza City is the largest urban centre, with 400,000 residents, followed by Khan Younis (200,000), and Rafah (150,000).
The Majority of Gazans are refugees which fled or were expelled from the land that is today Israel following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Over 3/4 of residents are registered refugees. Most Gazans live in refugee camps.
Over half of these refugees live in eight large camps. These camps depend on UN deliveries of aid for food, health, and education.
The UN states that:
The refugee camps in the Gaza Strip have among the highest population densities in the world. For example, over 80,688 refugees live in Beach camp whose area is less than one square kilometer. This high population density is reflected in the overcrowded UNRWA schools and classrooms.
Over 20% of refugee homes are not connected to a sewage system.
UN estimates the population of the eight camps to be:
o Jabalia 106,846
o Rafah 97,412
o Beach 80,567
o Nuseirat 58,727
o Khan Younis 61,539
o Bureij 29,805
o Maghazi 23,161
o Deir el-Balah 20,215
There are 18 primary healthcare facilities, overstretched, underfunded, and short on supplies. 187 overcrowded schools service the region. There is one vocational and technical training centre in the Gaza Strip, with room for 1,044 to enroll in the program.
The BMJ medical journal published a survey in 2002 indicating that, in the Gaza Strip, “13% of children under 5 years old were suffering from short term malnutrition and almost 18% had long term malnutrition—compared with a level of about 2% in countries that the World Health Organization defines as having moderate malnutrition.” Things are bad when almost a third of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition.
Since 2007, Israel has greatly intensified the blockade of the Gaza Strip, cutting off the region from the outside world, and reducing to a trickle access to essential supplies.
According to the World Bank, since the intensification of the Israeli blockade of Gaza in June 2007:
According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, the restrictions have led to the suspension of 95% of Gaza’s industrial operations. They can access neither the inputs for production nor the crossings to export what they produce, transforming Gaza into a consumer economy driven by public sector salaries and humanitarian assistance only. The agriculture sector has also been badly hit. Nearly 40,000 workers depend on the agriculture sector in Gaza.
Gaza’s economy has nearly hit rock bottom and is struck there. The World Bank has announced that in 2007 the economy did not grow at all.
Gazans depend on Israeli controlled terminals located on the border of the Strip as the only regular means of access for essential goods to their health and economy.
The Israeli blockade and closure of access to the Gaza Strip has hit the region hard. A World Bank supervised report indicates that the:
AlMontar/Karni terminal is the main crossing for the import and export of commercial goods for the Gaza Strip. Most of the terminal’s operations were halted on the 12th of June, 2007, and since then, only one single-lane conveyor belt continued to operate at an average of two days per week for the imports of wheat, grain and animal feeds.
After June 12, 2007, with intensification of the blockade, the terminal was operational only 27.5% of the time. So, on most days it was closed. From January 1 2007 to June 12 2007, 53,141 truckloads of imports went through the terminal, but after June 12 until the end of 2007 only 2,944 made it through.
The collapse of the economy is evident by looking at the types of imports that went through the main terminal of AlMontar/Karni. Below is a chart replicated from a UN supervised annual report by the Palestinian Trade Center.
These charts show the desperate situation in the Gaza Strip as almost all imports become dedicated to the provision of food to a people suffering from malnutrition.
Poverty is common to the residents of Gaza. The World Bank states that “the percentage of Gazans who live in deep poverty has risen to nearly 35% in 2006, and is expected to have increased further in 2007 and 2008. If revised to exclude remittances and food aid, this poverty rate is closer to 67%.”
The World Bank has reported that, “according to business associations in Gaza, the current restrictions have led to the suspension of 96% of Gaza’s industrial operations.”
Most Gazan industries are export-oriented and have purchase and supply contracts with Israeli and other firms. Gazan manufacturers rely almost entirely on imports for their inputs and until recently, about 76% of their furniture products, 90% of their garments and 20% of their food products were exported to Israel, and some to the West Bank.