The United Nations said on Sept. 1 that the Gaza Strip could become unlivable by 2020 without critical access to reconstruction and humanitarian supplies.
For Gaza’s beleaguered residents, none of this is surprising. Gaza is already uninhabitable and has been on a fast track to a complete collapse. The U.N. issued similar warnings three years ago, even before last summer’s 50-day war, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead and countless others injured — most of them civilians.
“Three Israeli military operations in the past six years, in addition to eight years of economic blockade, have ravaged the already debilitated infrastructure of Gaza,” the latest U.N. report said. “The most recent military operation compounded already dire socioeconomic conditions and accelerated de-development in the occupied Palestinian territory, a process by which development is not merely hindered but reversed.”
Among many things, the report cited the degradation of basic water, energy, sanitation and education facilities and the region’s intense overcrowding as factors that may render the tiny enclave uninhabitable by 2020.
But is anyone listening?
In October 2014, a donor conference hosted by Egypt and Norway pledged nearly $5.4 billion to the Palestinian Authority — $1 billion more than some estimates of the damage from the war. But just $3.5 billion was for Gaza, and more than 25 percent of that sum was committed to prewar projects. Only 8 percent, or $338 million, of the new funding has been disbursed. (Two of the biggest donors, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — which pledged $1.5 billion for Gaza — disbursed only 10 percent of their share.)
Donor fatigue has left Gaza’s reconstruction at a standstill, and there is no political solution on the horizon. After three wars in the tiny strip, one of the few certainties in Gaza is another war within a few years.
Nearly 80 percent of Gaza’s approximately 1.8 million people rely on aid agencies for daily sustenance. Unemployment is at 40 percent, more than double the level 15 years ago. Before last year’s war, nearly 60 percent of the population was food insecure, 95 percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for drinking and electricity is available for only a few hours a day.
This is why 2020 is a generous estimate. Gaza may experience an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe long before that date. However, despite the absence of any imaginable political solution, no one is paying attention to the desperation in the Gaza Strip. Media attention remains focused on a diplomatic agreement with Iran and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. This ensures that residents of the besieged territory will have to find other ways to garner the world’s attention again, including militancy.
The Gaza Strip is an international social experiment testing the limits of human misery. Global actors appear to be watching from afar to see how much pressure a society can endure before total collapse. Every time you think they have hit rock bottom, another round of despair is visited upon them.
The recent agreement between Iran and world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program offers some hope for the people of Gaza. International attention may now return to other issues in the region, including the impoverished Palestinian strip. The movement toward normalization of U.S.-Iran relations may serve as a building block upon which the two countries can work together toward regional stability. Other key regional players may devote more energy toward the plight of Palestinians, since the issue remains a focal point for Arab publics and has the potential to drive regional instability.
For the people of Gaza, this hopeful development might be too far off in the future. Most people are unable to plan their lives beyond a few days, let alone five years. Unfortunately, many in Gaza will find Gaza’s projected uninhabitability and their current destitute existence a distinction without a difference.
Gaza needs an urgent political and humanitarian response. One without the other is not enough. The international community has a role to play in ending Israel’s continued siege of Gaza, which has only led to recurring bouts of belligerency and fed the desperation in Gaza that fuels it. Donors must come through with their pledges and send a clear and strong message to Israel that this will be the last time Gaza is rebuilt. Ultimately, a political solution to the question of Palestine must replace the corrupt policies that have brought nothing but recurring, indecisive wars to Gaza.