The war between Israel and Palestine has saturated the media with many views on the resulting effects. What about the state of things in Gaza prior to this violent conflict? In this blog, Irene Van Staveren — a professor of pluralist development economics at the International Institute of Social Studies — tickles our imagination to consider the complexities of social problems evident in Gaza prior to October 7, 2023 when the war broke out.
Imagine you were a 13-year-old girl growing up in the Gaza Strip under ‘normal’ circumstances until a few weeks ago. Statistically, you would have made up over 40% of the total population along with all the other children up to the age of 14. You had three siblings. The likelihood of living below the poverty line was 53%. Just last year, hundreds of buildings were hit by rockets, including the power plant. Over the past years, you had experienced various bombings in and around Gaza City. As a result, like all the other children in your neighbo, you had an 87% chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder according to the latest Human Development Report (p.89). There haven’t been any elections in 16 years, and your parents feel powerless.
You often didn’t have enough to eat because your parents had a high risk of unemployment (40% for men, 64% for women). One of your uncles had a fairly well-paying job outside of Gaza, which put him in the one percent who managed that. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to keep much of his salary as an UNCTAD report (p. 6) suggests that 30% of the earnings for such work go into the pockets of labour brokers. Your grandfather had a small olive grove and could sell some olive oil to foreign markets. However, he was increasingly stopped when trying to reach his grove. According to the same UNCTAD report (p.8), olive production had dropped by 60%.
So, you most likely shared a small living space with many people. This was quite challenging when you had to do your homework, especially because there was only electricity available half of the time. Often, there was no light in the evenings. Learning was a struggle, and the destruction of several schools led to the surviving children being divided among the remaining schools, making your class overcrowded.
The only escape from this situation might have been marriage. According to the Palestinian Authority’s statistical bureau, one in five girls gets married before their 18th birthday. You knew some of these girls – they dropped out of school early and became mothers at a young age. Finding a job was out of the question for them. Not that you would have had it much better. More than half of the youth in Gaza can’t find a job.
In the past, there used to be international aid to rely on. However, over the past ten years, it has plummeted from 18% of Gaza’s income to 2%, according to the World Bank (figure 2). Fortunately, most schools and many hospitals are run by the UN and aid organizations. But they face significant shortages of medicine and parts for medical equipment like X-ray machines. The WHO calculated that almost 70% of permit requests for importing these medical goods are denied. When your grandmother needed surgery at a hospital outside of Gaza, her doctor’s request wasn’t processed on time, putting her at a high risk of passing away. Thankfully, she survived. But you didn’t. Fourty percent of the victims of the current bombings in Gaza are children.
This column appeared in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, on 31 October 2023.
Image Credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED
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About the author:
Irene van Staveren is a professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest is in feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics. Her key research interest is at the meso level of the economy with topics such as social cohesion, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, as well as ethics and values in the economy and in economics.
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