General Assembly Informal Briefing On The Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

November 17, 2023

Watch full briefing here.

President of the General Assembly, Excellencies, esteemed colleagues,

I appreciate the opportunity to brief you today on the situation in Gaza from the perspective of the United Nations Development Programme.

Often, such a crisis is carefully examined from a perspective narrowly focused on humanitarian responses which are uncontestably necessary for saving lives and providing immediate relief for great human suffering.

In Gaza today, that remains the absolute priority as you have heard repeatedly over the past weeks, as well as today from my colleagues participating in this briefing.

Almost six weeks of war have created a crisis of massive scale, with unprecedented humanitarian needs, levels of loss of life, human suffering, displacement, and destruction in the Gaza Strip. 

It is a crisis that our collective humanity cannot and should not accept.

Along with sister UN agencies, UNDP has repeatedly called for sustained and unrestricted humanitarian access throughout Gaza to allow humanitarian actors to reach civilians in need, save lives and prevent further human suffering. Flows of humanitarian aid must be at scale and sustained to allow all Gazans to preserve their dignity. UNDP strongly supports the UN Secretary-General's call for a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

But on top of this humanitarian catastrophe, as is often the case in war and conflict situations, a development crisis is already unfolding, with potential generational implications.

UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP) was established through a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 1978, calling upon UNDP “to improve the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian people”.

Within our mandate and to assess those implications, UNDP recently teamed up with the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, to produce a rapid social and economic assessment of impacts of the ongoing war.

The assessment engaged a group of leading economists with deep understanding of the Arab States region and employed established tools of economic modelling and complementary tools of satellite imaging.

It concluded that the long-term implications the war on the economy and livelihoods may have devastating consequences on future prospects not only for all Gazans, but for the entire population of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

Let me share with you some detailed findings of our assessment.

The war in Gaza which has already caused the destruction of 50% of the housing stock and rapidly in a population already vulnerable even before this crisis hit. 

Before this war, 1.46 million people in the State of Palestine lived under the poverty line – an estimated 26.7% of the population. 

If the war continues for a second full month, poverty is estimated to soar by 34 percent, expanding poverty to include almost 36 percent of the population and thrusting nearly half a million additional people into poverty. 

A third full month of war would see poverty increase by almost 45 percent, expanding poverty to include almost 39 percent of the population – to a total of over2.1 million people, which amounts up to over 660,000 more people compared to pre-war numbers.

The shock to the Palestinian economy as a whole has been severe, as a result of the total siege of Gaza, destruction of capital, forced displacement, restrictions on movement of people and goods in the West Bank, and a suspension of tax transfers from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. 

As the war hit the one-month mark, the Palestinian GDP is estimated to have declined already by 4.3 percent sustaining a loss of US$ 857 million. 

With a third full month of war, the decrease of GDP will reach 12.2 percent with total losses of US$ 2.5 billion.

To put these figures in perspective, we should consider that according to the World Bank, the total losses to the Palestinian GDP in the entire year of 2020 due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic amounted to 11.3 percent. 

That is to say that losses to the Palestinian economy from one quarter of the current war will exceed an entire year of losses due to COVID. 

In addition, the fiscal position of the State of Palestine is unsustainable, as evidenced by its public debt before the current war, through a debt sustainability analysis. 

Debt is now expected to deteriorate owing to a reduction in clearance revenues (revenue collected by Israel on behalf of and transferred to the Palestinian Authority), which constituted around 64 percent of total revenues in 2022. The Palestinian Authority has not been able to pay the full salaries of public servants.

In Gaza, the unprecedented level of destruction will set back the economy by many years. It will not only reduce short-term GDP growth but will also have long-term implications. 

In addition to the loss of productive capacity in the form of agriculture, manufacturing and services, this level of infrastructure destruction will make resumption of normal economic activity difficult due to the challenges to transportation activities which are a vital aspect of the supply chain.

According to the agriculture damage assessment conducted by UNOSAT in just two governorates, North Gaza and Gaza City, over 36 percent of greenhouses have been destroyed or damaged by the war. 

Moreover, 1,023 fields have been damaged in these governorates, as evidenced by the presence of craters by 15 and 26 October respectively in North Gaza and Gaza City.

Satellite imagery also showed that a total of 539 segments of roads have been damaged across the road network in northern Gaza.

When it comes to labour and employment, about 14 percent of the Palestinian labour work force works in Israel or in Israeli settlements, with around 20,000 workers from Gaza, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

With the escalation, Israel has suspended work permits for all Palestinians workers in its territory.

Furthermore, the Israeli-imposed restrictions on movements within the West Bank are creating difficulties for 67,000 Palestinian workers.  Accessing their workplaces in governorates other than their place of residence has become impossible and is putting them at risk of losing their jobs.

As the war hit the one-month mark, 61 percent of employment in Gaza, equivalent to 182,000 jobs, is estimated to have been lost. In addition, around 24 percent of employment in West Bank has also been lost, equivalent to 208,000 jobs, according to ILO.

With all these stark figures in mind, our assessment also concludes that the war will have a long-lasting negative impact on human development.

With the destruction of schools and hospitals and the level of deaths in Gaza, the assessment estimates that there will be a sharp decline in the Human Development Index (HDI), which is UNDP’s summary composite index of welfare, measuring health, education, and economic attainment.

In the most conservative scenario, it is estimated that this war will set back development in the State of Palestine by 11 years. Obviously, Gaza will be hardest hit, sustaining an estimated setback of 16 years. 

In higher-war-impact scenario, the war will set development back in the state of Palestine by 16 year and in Gaza by 19 years.

We must remember that these staggering numbers that I have just shared will translate into real life impacts on the people of Gaza and the entire occupied Palestinian territory. 

Every additional month that this war continues will come with huge and compounding costs to all Palestinians, Gazans, now and in the medium-term. 

Efforts to stop this war must accelerate as a humanitarian, but also a development imperative. 

With almost 1.6 million people in Gaza internally displaced since the beginning of the war and the large-scale destruction especially of the housing units, estimated at half of the homes in Gaza – the assessment predicts that the estimated economic downturn will further exacerbate the catastrophic humanitarian situation and will make recovery prospects challenging and slow.

Distinguished representative, esteemed colleagues,

Helping the women, men, and children of Gaza that have been impacted by this war regain any sense of normalcy, including returning to their homes, will require very ambitious reconstruction and economic, social, and humanitarian recovery plans once the conditions become conducive.

And helping safeguard a future where Palestinians can get back on their own feet with dignity and maintain hope in the future may prove even more challenging.

Long term stability and security are essential conditions to sustain development accomplishments achieved through the hard work of the Palestinian people themselves, supported through generous development investments in the billions over the past decades from the international community. 

UNDP / PAPP is mandated and well placed to coordinate planning and management of the recovery efforts as it has available on-the-ground programmatic expertise and capacity, and operational experience, to begin implementation as soon as conditions allow.  

We must heed the Secretary General’s assertion that only a negotiated peace in line with UN resolutions can establish those necessary and foundational conditions.