Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 due to war, its economic blockade, debilitated infrastructure, and environmental concerns, according to a new UN report on Palestine released this week.
The findings of the UN's Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) echoed an earlier assessment made by the UN in 2011, which determined that Gaza would not be livable by the start of next decade "without herculean efforts" to improve health, education, energy, water, and sanitation.
Israel withdrew from the narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean in 2005, but has launched large-scale military operations in Gaza on three occasions since then. An Israeli sea and land blockade of Gaza was established after Hamas took power in 2007, and has also been enforced to varying degrees on its Western border by Egypt.
Last summer, a brutal war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza left more than 2,000 dead, and much of the area's housing stock and infrastructure destroyed.
"The most recent military operation, in 2014, impacted an already paralyzed economy at a time when socioeconomic conditions were at their lowest since 1967," wrote UNCTAD. The Israeli assault, called Protective Edge, coupled with others in 2008 and 2012, "shattered its productive base, left no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery and impoverished the Palestinian population in Gaza, rendering their economic well-being worse than the level of two decades previous."
In July, the chief of the UN's Relief and Works Agency said none of the more than 12,000 houses totally destroyed during Protective Edge had been rebuilt.
Earlier this year, the World Bank, citing operation Protective Edge, as well as blockades and bad governance, estimated that Gaza's economy shrank by 15 percent in 2014. The World Bank found that real per capita income was nearly a third lower than two decades prior. During the same period, Gaza's manufacturing sector withered by 60 percent, according to investigators.
Protective Edge, wrote UNCTAD, "effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international aid."
Unemployment in Gaza stands at 44 percent, more than double the rate in the occupied West Bank. Almost three-quarters of its residents suffer from food insecurity. In 2000, some 72,000 Gazans relied entirely on UNRWA for food; today, the figure stands at 868,000 — about half of all Gazans.
UNCTAD said that the blockade led to an almost total ban on exports, and heavy restrictions on cash and imports. Israel claims the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from replenishing its military stockpiles.
Many in Gaza have turned to a system of tunnels built between Palestine and Egypt, which has been used to transport basic goods as well as weapons. "Tunnels should never have been perceived as substitutes for the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people to enjoy free and normal access to global markets that other peoples and countries take for granted," said UNCTAD. "Gaza requires a lifting of this blockade, not an unregulated underground economy."
On the other side of Gaza's border, Egypt's military rulers have restarted efforts to destroy the tunnel system. Building what they say is a huge fish farm, bulldozers have begun excavating earth along the frontier with Gaza, which officials in Cairo say will be filled with water.
The combined effects of isolation, a lack of resources, and an economy that is beaten down by war every few years have led "accelerated de-development" in Gaza, which the UN defines as "a process bywhich development is not merely hindered but reversed." The only thing growing in Gaza, said the UN, is its population, which is expected to rise from 1.8 million to 2.1 million by 2020.
Years of extraction from a coastal aquifer has also left Gaza's water supply dangerously depleted. Salt water and the remnants of 33 million cubic meters worth of wastewater dumped annually into the Mediterranean have also filtered back into the aquifer thanks to a low water table, and 95 percent of the remaining water is reportedly undrinkable without treatment.
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