Unemployment in the Gaza Strip remains among the highest in the world and real wages have continued to decline every year since Israel imposed a blockade of the area, according to a new report from the United Nations agency that assists Palestinian refugees.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) report on the economy in Gaza for the second half of 2010 listed the unemployment rate at 45.2 per cent and said real wages have slumped by an estimated 34.5 per cent since the Israelis imposed the blockade in 2007.
“It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” said UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.
Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007. The two factions reached a deal last month, agreeing to form a national unity government and hold elections within a year.
The report finds that the private sector was particularly badly hit compared to the public sector, UNRWA said. In the second half of 2010 businesses shed over 8,000 jobs, a decline in employment of nearly 8 per cent relative to the first half of the year. By contrast, the Hamas-dominated public sector grew by nearly 3 per cent during the same period.
“Our research indicates that since 2007, Hamas has been able to increase public employment by at least one fifth,” said Mr. Gunness.
“Even more striking, in what should have been a relatively good year for the Gaza private sector with the supposed easing of the blockade, the public sector generated 70 per cent of all net job growth as between second-half 2009 and second-half 2010.
“If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed. But it has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region.”
“Amid this economic gloom, UNRWA will continue with its human development work in health and education, running schools for some 213,000 children in Gaza, helping them towards a belief in an educated, dignified and peaceful future,” said Mr. Gunness.
“But the number of people coming to us, the abject poor living on just over $1 a day, has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed and with many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval, the future looks bleak.”