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UN warns of deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza

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Gaza will no longer be "a liveable place" by 2020 unless urgent action is taken to improve the water supply, electricity, education and health, a UN report warned on Monday.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is already difficult and "action needs to be taken now if Gaza is to be a liveable place in 2020", the report noted. It main findings were read out to journalists by the UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in Gaza.


"Action needs to be taken right now on fundamental aspects of life: water, sanitation, electricity, education, health and other aspects," Gaylard explained.

The 16-page report is headed "Will the Gaza Strip be Viable in 2020?" It was prepared by UN experts who mentioned that growth in the Strip will be slow in the coming years, during which the territory is expected to see an increase in population of around half-a-million people.

"Growth over the next eight years will be slow, since Gaza's current isolation renders its economy essentially non-viable," the report said. It attributed the reasons of Gaza's deteriorated situation to the Israeli siege imposed since 2006. Gaza has no seaport, airport or free land crossings which are not subject to the effects of the siege.

According to the report, Gaza's population will increase from 1.6 million today to 2.1 million in 2020, resulting in a density of more than 5,800 people per square kilometre.

UNRWA's director of operations in Gaza said that the Strip, which lives on UN aid, international support and the tunnel trade, will not be able to face future challenges.

"By 2020, Gaza will need 440 more schools, 800 more hospital beds and over 1,000 additional doctors," said Robert Turner. "The smuggling trade is not a solution."

"Palestinians in Gaza still need help," added Gaylard. "They are under blockade. They are under occupation and they need our help both politically and practically on the ground."

The residents of the Gaza Strip suffer from a lack of clean drinking and irrigation water, a growing problem due to increasing salinity and the fact that most of Gaza's waste water goes into the sea and groundwater aquifers untreated.

"A lack of clean drinking water is the greatest immediate concern," said Jean Gough, UNICEF's special representative in the Palestinian territories. "By 2016, Gaza's aquifer may become unusable. Palestinians are already drilling deeper and deeper to reach groundwater and there is a need for more desalination plants."

The report says only a quarter of Gaza waste water is treated. The rest, including raw sewage, goes into the Mediterranean Sea.

Gaylard said Gaza needs peace, security and the siege to be lifted to improve the lives of its people. "It will certainly have to mean the end of blockade, the end of isolation and the end of conflict."

MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad

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