UN says Gaza Strip facing economic collapse

UNITED NATIONS — The Gaza Strip is in danger of a general economic collapse, said a high level UN official, unless Karni crossing, the main point of entry for commercial goods into the territory, is reopened soon.

The warning was issued by Filippo Grandi, deputy commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Aug. 9. Grandi had just completed a tour of the territory.

“Gaza risks becoming a virtually 100 percent aid-dependent, closed-down and isolated community within a matter of months or even weeks,” Grandi said. “The window of opportunity in which we can address this most urgent situation is small and fast closing.”

Israel closed the crossing to all commercial goods June 12, after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. The Jerusalem Post reported as far back as July 16 that, as a result, 80 percent of all businesses in Gaza were temporarily shuttered. Of the establishments that remained open, they were operating at only 60 percent capacity.

The Israeli clampdown is choking Gaza. Grandi noted that in the territory the UNRWA had been forced to halt all construction projects, which amount to $93 million, because the agency was unable to import the necessary materials.

“We urgently need to get these into Gaza if we are to avoid a significant worsening of the living conditions of those who have waited months, and even years to have their own homes,” he said.

All classes of the population, from farmers to businessmen, are at risk, said Grandi. An average of half a million dollars per day, $23 million since June, has been lost in Gaza industry, according to a report given him by the Palestinian Association of Businessmen.

“If this continues,” Grandi said, “the PAB predicts that at least 120,000 workers in Gaza will lose their jobs. In the construction sector alone, about $160 million worth of projects have been halted.”

Grandi added that farmers are in a crisis. They have no way of knowing whether or not they should spend money preparing fields and paying workers, because they cannot know whether their goods will be able to be exported. They also have no way of knowing whether they will even be able to obtain such simple necessities as fertilizer.

“If the agricultural sector is allowed to fail,” said Grandi, “Gaza will pay a huge price. More than 13 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture.”

The United Nations has been demanding that Karni crossing be opened. On July 13, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded that the Karni crossing be reopened for commercial goods. Already at that time, his spokesperson said, “3,190 businesses have closed down, forcing over 65,000 people into unemployment.”

Grandi reiterated the call to open the crossing.

“Only this,” he said, “will allow the little that remains of Gaza’s economy to survive.”

dmargolis @pww.org