The FINANCIAL — Gaza has seen conditions steadily deteriorate over the last two decades, leading to collapsing of the economy and basic social services. While additional cash inflows are urgently needed to bring relief to the difficult living conditions, a lasting recovery depends on a concerted strategy to revive the Gaza economy through access to external markets and expansion of commercial activities.
A new World Bank report explores the nature of the rapid decline of the socio-economic conditions in Gaza and identifies what is needed to unlock sustainable growth. The report will be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison committee (AHLC) on March 20, 2018 in Brussels, a policy-level meeting for development assistance to the Palestinian people.
“While additional aid is needed to provide humanitarian relief in the short term and ease the fiscal stress, it cannot continue to substitute for long term measures,” said Marina Wes, World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza. “Serious commitments by all parties are needed to spur growth and jobs by putting in place the right conditions for a dynamic private sector. Without addressing the constraints, Gaza will continue to suffer with a heavy toll on its population,” she added.
Donor aid is urgently needed in the short-term to address the recent liquidity squeeze and improve dire humanitarian conditions.
Recent economic data revealed a drop in Gaza growth from 8 percent in 2016 to a mere 0.5 percent in 2017 with almost half of the labor force unemployed. The drop is attributed to a decline in inflows that has weakened reconstruction activity and led to a sharp decline in the income of a quarter of Gazans.
Access and quality of basic services such as electricity, water and sewerage is rapidly deteriorating and posing grave health risks. An additional destabilizing factor is the possible cuts to UNRWA funding – one of the main providers of jobs and services in Gaza. In fact, the cuts could risk income loss to 18,000 staff, and even more when counting their dependents.
Additional aid will be needed to avoid financial exacerbations. The potential reconciliation with Gaza, a positive for the territories overall, could increase the expected financing gap for 2018 from USD440 million to USD1 billion. Measures proposed by the Palestinian Authority will not be enough to close the gap and it will resort to domestic sources of financing including debt from local banks and arrears to the private sector and the pension fund. This could eventually choke the economies of both the West Bank and Gaza with negative consequences on suppliers, banks and ultimately growth and tax generation.
In the long term, aid will not be able to provide the impetus for growth, nor can it reverse Gaza’s de-development. The current market in Gaza is not able to offer jobs and incomes leaving a large population in despair, particularly the youth. Gaza’s exports are a fraction of their pre-blockade level and the manufacturing sector has shrunk by as much as 60 percent over the last twenty years. The economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world.
Any effort at economic recovery and development must address the impacts of the current closure regime. Minor changes to the restrictive system currently in place will not be sufficient. Proposed projects to increase the supply of water and electricity are extremely welcome, but unless there is an opportunity to boost incomes through expanding trade, the sustainability of these investments will be in doubt.
The report highlights necessary preconditions for a sustained economic recovery in Gaza. They include a private sector that can compete in regional and global markets and increase its exports of goods and services. Required actions include relaxing the dual use restrictions, streamlining trade procedures at Gaza’s commercial crossing and rebuilding trade links with the West Bank and Israel. Effective governance systems and institutional strengthening under the Palestinian Authority’s leadership are also key for a sustainable recovery.
Donors can also help by offering innovative financing instruments that can mitigate risks holding back transformative investments by the private sector in Gaza.