World Bulletin / News Desk
Israel-besieged Gaza will no longer be "liveable" by 2020 unless urgent action is taken to improve water supply, power, health, and schooling, the United Nations' most comprehensive report on the Palestinian enclave said on Monday.
Israel staged a three-week war in January 2009, devastating infrastructure, killing up to 1500 people.
"Action needs to be taken now if Gaza is to be a liveable place in 2020 and it is already difficult now," U.N. humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard told journalists when the report was released on Monday.
Five years into an Israeli siege supported by Egypt, and living under one-party rule, Gaza's population of 1.6 million is set to rise by 500,000 over the next eight years, say the authors of the U.N.'s most wide-ranging report on the territory.
Gaza has one the youngest populations in the world, with 51 percent of people under the age of 18.
"Action needs to be taken right now on fundamental aspects of life: water sanitation, electricity, education, health and other aspects," Gaylard said.
The report, involving expertise from more U.N. agencies and making projections further into the future than before, said growth over the next eight years would be slow, since Gaza's current isolation renders its economy essentially non-viable.
End of Israeli siege needed for peace
The people in the narrow coastal strip live mainly on U.N. aid, foreign funding and a tunnel economy which brings in food, construction materials, electronics and cars from Egypt.
But the smuggling trade is no solution. Robert Turner, director of operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said Gaza by 2020 will need 440 more schools, 800 more hospital beds and over a 1,000 additional doctors.
Gaylard called on international donors to increase their aid to a population which is 80 percent aid dependent.
"Despite their best efforts the Palestinians in Gaza still need help," he said. "They are under blockade. They are under occupation and they need our help both politically and practically on the ground."
A lack of clean drinking water is the greatest immediate concern, said Jean Gough of the UNICEF. The report projects a 60 percent increase in the enclave's water needs, while urgent action is already needed to protect existing water resources.
By 2016, Gaza's aquifer may become unusable, she said. Palestinians are already drilling deeper and deeper to reach groundwater and there is a need for more desalination plants. A seawater plant costing about $350 million is planned.
The U.N. 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 and security 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."
There is as yet no sign of an end to Israel occupation.
Rebuilding homes and factories smashed in the Israeli winter war of 2009 is Gaza's biggest task, and construction is the source of most of its growth in employment in the past two years.
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