Al Mezan Center for Human Rights issued its annual report on the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in the Gaza Strip in 2019. The report documents the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza strip throughout the past year. While the ongoing 14-year Israeli blockade and repeated military offensives are the main drivers of such deterioration, a number of mutually reinforcing elements have exacerbated the situation in Gaza, namely, the intra-Palestinian divisions and lack of governmental intervention to remedy the situation.
According to the report, the abovementioned factors set substantial barriers to the ability of some two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights; severely undermined their access to key services, such as healthcare, energy, education, water, and sanitation; and weighed heavily on the economy as the Strip’s gross domestic product (GDP) continued to shrink.
The main findings of the report are reflected in the following indicators:
- Production rate declined in industrial sector, particularly in specialized industries subsector which utilized no more than one quarter of its potential production capacity. The number of factories that closed down due to the deteriorating economic situation throughout the past decade increased to 534 manufacturing plants by the end of 2019.
- Gaza’s wood, textile, and plastic industries suffered a noticeable decline in production capacity: Only 100 out of 600 carpentries and furniture businesses are still operating; the textile production capacity hovers around 20 percent; and plastic factories can only cover 40 percent of the local demand compared to 80 percent prior to the Israeli blockade.
- The gap between exports and imports remained large in 2019. Excluding fuel tanker trucks imported into the Gaza Strip, for every 95 trucks of imports and humanitarian aid, only three truckloads of exports made their way out of Gaza (mostly to the West Bank and, to a lesser extent, Israel and other countries).
- Agriculture sector contribution to the GDP prior to 2008-2009 Israeli military offensive stood at 7.7 percent. In 2019, however, it dropped to 5.02 percent.
- The Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation (GEDC) estimates the Gaza Strip’s electricity demand at about 622 megawatts during peak times. In 2019, the average power supply stood at about 200 megawatts, leaving Gaza with a deficit of 68 percent of its demand. The chronic electricity crisis presents a serious obstacle to key drivers of socioeconomic growth.
- Unemployment and food insecurity rates rose to 45 and 69 percent, respectively.
- Poverty rate stood at 53 percent, adversely impacting the GDP per capita which contracted by 2.8 percent, reaching 1,417 US dollars.
- Despite the increase in demand for social services, the Ministry of Social Development reduced the number of eligible beneficiaries compared to 2018.
- Referral patients submitted 24,052 applications to the Israeli authorities for requisite Israeli-issued permits to leave Gaza for medical care, 35 percent of which were either denied or excessively delayed. This has hampered access of thousands of Gaza residents to medical care, and resulted in the death of a woman and a child in 2019.
- Pollution worsened as raw or partially treated sewage water continued to be pumped into the sea; 44.5 percent of seawater in the Gaza Strip is reportedly contaminated.
- The electricity crisis and the ensuing deterioration of living standards adversely hindered the population's access to desalinated water in adequate quantities and affordable prices, and the rate of water consumption per capita in Gaza fell below the minimum international standards.
- Approximately, 13,000 housing units that were partially damaged prior to the 2014 military offensive on Gaza remained without repair, and only 11.4 percent of the 3,374 residential housing units that were destroyed after the offensive had been rebuilt.
- The average class size increased to 39 students in the Ministry of Education schools and 41 students in UNRWA schools.
- The indicators showed an alarming decline in the number of teachers in the public education sector despite the increase in the number of students. The number of public-school teachers dropped from 11,380 in 2019/2018 school-year to 11,062 teachers in 2019/2020.
- Only 254 books were deposited at the Ministry of Culture for registration in 2019, compared to 341 in 2018.
The figures presented in the report highlight the need for immediate actions to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip. In conclusion, Al Mezan put forth a number of recommendation and calls for action to the international community and Palestinian duty-bearers:
To the international community:
- The international community must honor its moral and legal obligations by intervening swiftly and effectively to lift the closure and blockade, and to pressure Israeli authorities to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law and human rights law. To this end, the international community must take action to ensure accountability.
- Al Mezan calls on the international community to intervene to resolve the electricity crisis, and support local efforts to preserve the environment. This can be done through funding projects for sewage treatment, seawater desalination, and environment development and sustainability, in addition to supporting relevant existing projects.
- The international community must foster international cooperation to resolve the multi-faceted problems facing residents of the Gaza Strip. When contributing to humanitarian and development actions, the international community must prioritize actions which address economic growth factors to foil a looming humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip.
To Palestinian duty-bearers:
- All Palestinian political actors must work together to end the internal division and stop politicizing public services. Further, Al Mezan calls for upholding the rule of law, maintaining the separation of powers, and strengthening the judiciary’s financial and institutional independence. In addition, both presidential and parliamentary elections must be held to restore legitimacy of the branches of government and grant people the right to choose their representatives.
- The Palestinian authorities must end the duality in the political system, and set forward a comprehensive plan to counteract the crises facing the Gaza population, one that would guarantee protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights, including paying public servants' salaries in accordance with the law.
- Al Mezan urges government officials to create new jobs in the under-staffed health and education sectors, and to base the employment primarily on competence and integrity.
- New financial policies must be formed to support the private sectors. Governmental institutions must provide grace periods for repayment of loans and taxes, and reduce public service fees.
- The authorities must mobilize support and allocate emergency resources to municipalities to ensure the provision of indispensable services across crucial sectors, such as water and sanitation, which play a vital role in improving the ailing environment and supplying clean water to residential buildings.
- More plans and projects aimed at enhancing access to potable water must be developed, and any fees related to water supply services must be made affordable.