Gaza could become "uninhabitable" in fewer than five years as a result of the devastation caused by warfare and Israel's economic blockade. A report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development says that almost half of the population in Gaza is now unemployed, thousands have been reduced to "destitution", and the infrastructure and economy are in tatters after eight years of economic blockade and three wars between Israel and Hamas in the past six years.
It claims that the three-week conflict in July and August 2014 displaced half a million people. Over the course of the year, Gaza's GDP dropped 15%, unemployment reached a record high of 44%, and 72% of households were "food insecure", according to the report.
The report notes that the 2014 conflict "has undoubtedly had a far more catastrophic impact on the population, infrastructure and productive base, compared to the previous two." War "has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid", the new report says.
War and the economic blockade has wrecked the region's capacity to produce goods for the foreign and domestic markets, according to the report. It quotes a 2012 UN report noting that "Herculean efforts" would be needed in areas including health, education, energy, water and sanitation to make Gaza a liveable place in 2020. "Instead of such efforts, the tragedy in Gaza has deteriorated and its development was accelerated by destruction in 2014," notes the report.
Political instability, reduced amount of aid and the slow pace of reconstruction leave the 2015 economic prospects for Palestinian territories "bleak", the report said. It claims that if "the current blockade and insufficient levels of donor support persist, even with a reversion to the status quo that prevailed before the latest military operation, Gaza will become economically unviable and the already grim socioeconomic conditions can only deteriorate. The likely outcome will be more conflict, mass poverty, high unemployment, shortages of electricity and drinking water, inadequate healthcare and a collapsing infrastructure."
In the conflict, 3,782 Palestinians and 95 Israelis lost their lives. The Israeli and Egyptian economic blockade of Gaza has been in place since 2007, when Islamist organisation Hamas took political control of Gaza. Thousands of illegal tunnels were dug under the border with Egypt and used to import goods. In recent days, the Egyptian government began an operation to flood the border with Gaza and destroy tunnels, which it claims are used to transport weapons to Islamist militants in Sinai, but which Hamas claims are essential for transporting essential goods into the region.