GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A new UN study projecting rapid growth in the Palestinian population should serve as a “wake up call” to Israel and the international community, a senior UN official said Tuesday.
The report said that without international attention, growth in the Palestinian population, particularly Gaza, will lead to an even greater crisis in unemployment, overwhelm a strained infrastructure and increase the lure of militant groups.
“We are on a downward spiral, especially in Gaza, and things are getting worse by the day,” said Anders Thomsen, director of the UN Population Fund’s office in the Palestinian territories. “If that continues, you can of course only imagine that this will be an environment ripe for radicalization and for the conflicts, so I think that should be avoided.”
The population in the Palestinian territories will double to 9.5 million by 2050, according to the UN study. By 2030, the Palestinian territories would need 1 million new jobs just to keep unemployment at the rate it is now, the study found. Unemployment is currently 43 percent in Gaza and 18 percent in West Bank.
It will be difficult to create new jobs to meet the growth in population, and unemployment numbers will likely soar, possibly becoming among the world’s highest.
“The report is a wake-up call for both Palestinian planners, for the international community but also for Israel,” said Thomsen.
Currently, about three million Palestinians live in the West Bank, and nearly two million live in the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have stalled over creating a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are internally divided, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party in a longstanding dispute with Hamas, classified as a terrorist group by Israel, United States and much of Europe. Hamas overtook Gaza in 2007 after routing troops loyal to Abbas in bloody street battles. Palestinians have since been divided between Gaza under Hamas and Abbas governing parts of the West Bank.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas took over the Palestinian enclave. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from getting weapons while critics say it amounts to collective punishment.
The blockade and Palestinian infighting have contributed to difficult living conditions in Gaza.
In the 140-square-mile enclave, 60 percent of youth are out of jobs, and there is a severe electricity outage, unpotable water, a faltering economy and a poor health system. The projected population boom would likely exacerbate the electricity shortage in Gaza, where today households receive 4-6 hours of electricity a day, as well as complicate efforts to resolve Gaza’s water crisis.
An increase in early marriages and low contraceptive usage contribute to the high fertility rate in the Palestinian territories. Only 55 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank, and 48 percent in Gaza, use contraceptives, according to the study. It is not uncommon for Palestinian families in Gaza to have five or six children.
The study said there should be more efforts in the Palestinian territories to promote contraception use and to encourage waiting longer between pregnancies.