Beating the UN predictions: living in the unlivable Gaza

Children playing among the ruins of Gaza Children playing among the ruins of Gaza © Khalid Atif Hasan/ UNRWA

In their article published on 2 January 2020, H. Balousha and M. Berger present the current situation in  Gaza, which the UN has previously depicted as unliveable.

Eight years ago, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) discussed critical developments and humanitarian challenges facing Palestinians in the oPt. The discussions resulted in the publication of a report entitled “Gaza in 2020: A livable place?” in August 2012, predicting that by 2020 Gaza would have virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, that standards of healthcare and education would decline and affordable and reliable electricity for all would become a distant memory. such that Gaza would become inhabitable by the threshold of 2020.

As a result of the escalating pace of the crisis, a revision of these predictions occurred when the “Gaza ten years later” report - published by the UNCT in the oPt in July 2017 - disclosed that the living conditions for two million people in the Palestinian enclave were deteriorating “further and faster” than the prediction made in 2012. Thus, Gaza continued on its trajectory of 'de-development' even faster than the report had originally anticipated.

This revision did not come as a surprise for the inhabitants of Gaza, who have experienced a volatile decade since the seizure of power by the Hamas extremist group, which established a repressive and conservative rule in 2007 and triggered Israel and Egypt’s response implemented through land and sea blockades. The situation in Gaza was further aggravated by the three wars fought between Hamas and Israel, alongside numerous outbreaks, as well as by the control exerted by the Israeli police on the movement of people and goods from and towards Gaza. This resulted in Gaza’s population being squeezed in from all sides and deeming life in the city as “unfit for life” even before the 2020 threshold.

The appalling conditions in which two million residents are stuck to live include electricity and infrastructure which are not sufficient to run the sewage system. Shortcomings in those structures,  deepeed by previous conflicts, lead to sewage being pumped into the sea. This not only polluted sea waters but, most importantly, contaminated the aquifer’s waters, rendering 97 percent of them unsuitable for human consumption, according to the World Health Organization. Therefore, due to the lack of access to clean water and the damaged sewage system, one fourth of illnesses affecting Gaza are waterborne. In addition to this, lowering levels of healthcare, the diminishing education standards and increasing underemployment have resulted in an extreme brain drain which estimated that  35,000 to 40,000 persons have left Gaza since mid-2018.

While the UN report certainly rang an alarm bell, its predictions had turned into reality long ago. Therefore, the most pressing question is not whether Gaza, whose inhabitants are  kept afloat only due to Palestinian solidarity, cash inflows from Palestinians abroad, Hamas’s autocratic rule and aid from international bodies, is liveable or not. The question should be focused on what key stakeholders can do to prevent total collapse.

If Gaza’s portrait already appeared concerning, the recent cut in aid to UNRWA and other Palestinian aid programs executed by the Trump administration in 2018 seems unsettling, especially considering that 1.4 million of inhabitants are refugees and one million of them depend on UNRWA for food assistance. Moreover, the $50 billion Middle East peace plan presented in June 2019 by President Trump’s adviser, Jared Kushner, achieved no concrete improvements for Palestinians.

Furthermore, a new Middle East peace plan was presented by Trump on 29 January 2020 and already dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority due to the concerns that it would envisage Palestinians to be virtually more encircled. Thus, the question rises whether this new $50 billion economic plan envisaged for the new Palestinian state would finally improve living conditions in Gaza. Regardless of the answer one point remains: life in Gaza has been unbearable for years and key actors must act to help people currently residing in the territory.

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Author: Camilla Lavino; Editor: Aleksandra Krol

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