UN Report: Poverty Rising In Palestinian Areas, Despite Cease-Fire
December 09, 2005

The number of Palestinians living in poverty has climbed to nearly two-thirds this year, despite a sharp slowdown in fighting with Israel and the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip, according to a United Nations report issued Thursday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued the figures as it appealed for $215 million in emergency assistance for the Palestinians in 2006.

The UN office, which coordinates between the 12 UN aid agencies and several other non-governmental groups operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said the poverty rate in the Palestinian areas has climbed to 64 percent from 55 percent last year.

The poverty line is defined as those living off less than $2.20 a day. But half of those living in poverty, or some 1.2 million Palestinians, live on less than $1.60 or less a day, said OCHA chief David Shearer.

The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 28 percent from 34 percent. Still, joblessness is three times higher than what it was before fighting broke out in late 2000, OCHA said.

The Palestinian economy has been hit hard by the fighting. But the election of moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, a joint cease-fire agreement reached in February and the Gaza pullout in September has raised hopes that the economy would begin to recover.

"While progress on the political front is understood as the only means to ultimately alleviate poverty and suffering, as yet there has been no sign of humanitarian improvement," the UN report said.

It cited continued Israeli closures and other travel restrictions as drags on the economy. During spikes in violence, Israel restricts Palestinian movement to stop militants from launching attacks. The Israeli separation barrier being built in the West Bank has also further restricted Palestinian movement.

Francine Pickup, the humanitarian affairs officer at OCHA, said while Palestinians have had better access to jobs in Israel compared to the same time last year, the level of poverty has worsened because "their coping mechanisms are running out after five years of conflict."

"People can no longer rely on savings, are increasingly in debt, and are no longer able to continue the deferring of debt repayments," she said.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the government will do what it can to bolster the Palestinian economy. "Israel hopes we will see both political and economic development in Gaza. The development will allow the creation of a more successful Palestinian society. Their success is our success," he said.

Thursday's report marked the fourth consecutive year OCHA has sought emergency assistance from the international community. The aid would be for emergency measures such as job creation, agriculture and food. Last year, the UN agencies requested $302 million for emergency aid, of which they received only 59 percent.

Under the leadership of international envoy James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank president, international donors also have pledged $3 billion annually for reconstruction projects for the next three years, mostly in the Gaza Strip.