Gaza may already be ‘unlivable,’ UN official warns
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Gaza may already be ‘unlivable,’ UN official warns

Robert Piper defends PA move to slash salaries for idle workers but says power and healthcare cuts making conditions in Strip worse

Palestinians fill bottles and jerrycans with drinking water from public taps at the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza Strip, on February 22, 2017. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians fill bottles and jerrycans with drinking water from public taps at the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza Strip, on February 22, 2017. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Gaza Strip may already be “unlivable,” a United Nations official warned Tuesday, after a decade of Hamas rule and a crippling Israeli blockade.

Robert Piper, the UN’s top humanitarian official in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, told AFP in an interview to mark a new report on living conditions in Gaza all the “indicators are going in the wrong direction.”

“We predicted some years ago that Gaza would fast become unlivable on a host of indicators and that deadline is actually approaching even faster than we predicted — from health access, to energy to water,” he said.

A 2012 UN report predicted the Palestinian enclave would be “unlivable” by 2020 if nothing was done to ease the blockade.

Robert Piper 2016 (CC BY-SA Rick Bajornas, Wikimedia commons)
Robert Piper 2016 (CC BY-SA Rick Bajornas, Wikimedia commons)

Piper pointed out that power supplies were down to as little as two hours a day in Gaza, where medical care had been slashed and youth unemployment was over 60 percent.

Hamas and others have blamed the Palestinian Authority for cutting energy and refusing to fund medical supplies as a way of pressuring Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

In such circumstances “for most of us that unlivability point has already been passed,” he said.

“And yet somehow the Gazans soldier on.”

The Palestinian terror group Hamas seized Gaza from Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s forces in June 2007, leading Israel to impose a crippling blockade which critics say punishes all of the two million residents indiscriminately. Israel has defended the blockade, saying it is needed to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons which can be used to launch attacks against the Jewish state.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, the most recent in 2014. Thousands of missiles from the Strip have been aimed at Israeli population centers over the decade since the group began its rule, while it has been using its scarce resources in ongoing efforts to build cross border attack tunnels.

Since 2013 Egypt, the only other country with which Gaza shares a border, has largely closed off its crossing and destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels that provided a vital lifeline for the economy while also allegedly being used by Hamas to bring in weapons.

The new UN report, “Gaza — Ten Years Later,” says more than 95 percent of Gaza’s water is now unfit for drinking, while electricity supplies have reached critical levels in recent months — falling to only a few hours a day.

The PA recently said it would stop paying Israel for some electricity, and refused to let emergency supplies from Egypt meant to make up the shortfall reach the Strip.

Palestinians walk on a street at the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City during a power outage on June 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians walk on a street at the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City during a power outage on June 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

 

 

Palestinian squeeze

The PA, which runs the internationally recognized government in the West Bank, has recently begun a campaign to squeeze Hamas — including reducing energy funding and allegedly the number of permits given to sick Gazans seeking medical treatment outside.

Critics say this has led to yet more suffering in Gaza.

Piper said the PA’s objective of ending the split between Palestinian factions was “legitimate” and even backed some of the measures to put pressure on Hamas, but warned others were indiscriminate.

After being expelled by Hamas in 2007, the PA continued to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 employees who are not actually working.

The PA has sought to reduce their salaries in recent months, while forcibly retiring others.

Analysts say the move is designed to pressure the terror group by creating tension in Gaza, and a recent poll found 88 percent of Palestinians opposed the move.

“Cuts that were made to the salaries of employees who were still at home and not even going to work are arguably a legitimate means of putting some pressure on the de facto authorities in Gaza,” Piper said.

Palestinian Authority employees chant slogans and wave placards during a demonstration against the decision by the PA to reduce their salaries in Gaza City on April 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian Authority employees chant slogans and wave placards during a demonstration against the decision by the PA to reduce their salaries in Gaza City on April 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Other measures, he said, “are much less palatable,” highlighting the energy cuts and reduction in the number of healthcare permits for sick Gazans seeking care outside the strip.

“The Palestinian Authority has been taking certain measures to at least slow access to proper health care,” he said. “These sorts of measures for us are not acceptable.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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