By Mustafa Deveci
New statistics released by the Palestinian authorities reveal rapidly declining living conditions in the Gaza Strip, whose two million inhabitants continue to groan under a decade-long Israeli blockade.
According to a new annual survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 53 percent of the strip’s inhabitants are now under the poverty line, representing a 13-percent increase since 2011.
Experts attribute the worsening situation to declining business activity and local production as a direct result of the Israeli blockade.
A chronic electricity shortfall -- caused by the siege -- has contributed largely to declining production, which in turn has forced numerous businesses to halt operations.
What’s more, commercial traffic through the Kerem Shalom border crossing (which links Gaza to Israel) continues to dwindle, due largely to the erosion of purchasing power inside the strip.
Next-door Egypt, meanwhile, continues to keep the Rafah border crossing -- Gaza’s only crossing not controlled by Israel -- sealed for the most part.
Poorer and poorer
Gaza’s unemployment rate now stands at 44 percent (compared to 38 percent in 2015), with the number rising as high as 60 percent among university graduates, according to World Bank data released last month.
And while Gaza’s population rose by 38 percent within the last 10 years, its economy has grown by a mere 1.4 percent over the same period.
According to the Palestinian Monetary Authority, total personal savings on the part of the strip’s inhabitants fell from $1.37 billion in 2016 to a current $1.22 billion.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, meanwhile, has reported that -- as of the end of 2016 -- 1.3 million Gazans depended on international aid in order to survive, while 47 percent of families in Gaza lacked access to secure food supplies.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Gazan fishermen were given the right to ply to their trade up to 20 miles off Gaza’s shoreline. This, however, was recently reduced by the Israeli authorities to a mere nine miles.
In addition, the U.S. recently decided to withhold $65 million in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) following President Donald Trump’s decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Some 5.9 million registered Palestinian refugees are currently scattered across the Middle East, with most living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.