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Palestinian economic outlook bleak, UN report warns

GENEVA: The economic outlook in the Palestinian Territories deteriorated further last year, said a UN report released Wednesday which pointed at a jobless rate of 57 percent.

And the plight of workers in the Gaza Strip, where a young man burned himself to death in despair just a few days ago, is among the worst in the world, a UN expert said.

A report by experts commissioned by the UN Conference on Trade and Development and released by UNCTAD on Wednesday set out the grim outlook in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"The long-term prospects for Palestinian economic development became even more unattainable in 2011 than in the previous years," they wrote in "Developments in the economy of the occupied Palestinian territory."

They put forward a number of reasons for their pessimistic forecast, saying that "restrictions on movement, faltering aid flows, a paralysed private sector, and a chronic fiscal crisis cloud the horizons."

In addition, they noted, high unemployment only worsened poverty.

Wednesday's report came out just days after one 17-year-old Palestinian died Sunday, four days after he had set himself on fire in desperation over financial problems.

"In 2011, the average real wages in the occupied territories fell six percent compared to 2010," Mahmoud Elkhafif, coordinator of UNCTAD's assistance programme to the Palestinians, told reporters.

Already in June, an International Labour Organization (ILO) report warned of the consequences of high rates of youth unemployment among Palestinians, which it said could lead to just such acts of desperation.

"The situation of workers in Gaza is one of the worst in the world," Nada al-Nashif, ILO's Regional Director for the Arab States, told reporters.

In 2011, there were 222,000 unemployed people in the Palestinian Territories, with more than 70 percent of those under 30 without work.

In the Gaza Strip, where the young Palestinian died on Sunday, the jobless rate was running at three times the regional average.

More than 80 percent of the Gaza Strip's 1.6 million inhabitants depend on international aid. More than 40 percent of them live below the poverty line.

And according to ILO figures, the jobless rate in the Palestinian Territories overall stood at 57 percent.

In the Gaza Strip, 45.7 percent of young men are without a job. Among young women the rate stands at 78.1 percent.

The UNCTAD report also denounced other effects of Israeli-imposed restrictions.

"The impact of occupation on the Palestinian productive base, especially the agriculture sector, has been devastating," UNCTAD said in its report.

"The economy has lost access to 40 percent of West Bank land, 82 percent of its ground water, and more than two thirds of its grazing land," it noted.

"In Gaza, half of the cultivable area and 85 percent of fishery resources are inaccessible," it added.

And in East Jerusalem, it noted, the situation was even worse.

"Even more alarming is that East Jerusalem's poverty rate is higher than Gaza's despite it being encompassed by an Israeli urban metropolis of 'Greater Jerusalem'."

Rates of poverty there had risen from 64 percent in 2006 to 78 percent in 2012, it said, citing figures compiled by activists from the Association for Civil Rights Israel (ACRI).

Here again, it said, high unemployment was the root of the problem.

The territories' trade and economic dependency on Israel remained a source of concern, said the report.

Trade with Israel in 2011 represented 80 percent of the Palestinians' total trade activity; and its trade deficit with Israel made up 84 percent of the total Palestinian deficit -- 31 percent of its GDP.

 
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