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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Intifada hardships bite
Khan Yunis
Palestinian infrastructure has suffered largescale damage
By BBC News Online's Fiona Symon

There has been a drastic deterioration in living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the past 10 months.

The Palestinian authorities estimate that a third of the population of 3.2 million are now living below the poverty line - on under six Shekels ($1.5) a day.

Dr Hisham Awartani, economics lecturer at Al-Najah university near Nablus on the West Bank, says the economy is approaching collapse.

Palestinian boy
Palestinian children earn a few shekels by carrying parcels

"People are using all their survivalist resources in order to get by, but they are not magicians," said Dr Awartani.

In the initial months of the intifada, people lived off their savings, but most of these will have run out by now, he said.

And there is daily evidence of people's desperation as more and more Palestinian men take their ageing vehicles onto the roads to run as taxis.

Children also crowd on street corners trying to earn a few Shekels.

"If you're carrying anything in the street, you find yourself surrounded by young boys jostling to carry it and they will accept whatever you offer them. This is something that never happened in the past, " said Dr Awartani.

It is a now common sight to see people selling tomatoes at the side of the street. Even if they may make only 3-5 shekels a day, it is better than nothing.

Rising unemployment

Unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza is hard to measure because of the size of the informal economy, but Dr Mahmoud Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (Pecdar) says the figure is now more than 50%.

This is compared to a figure of between 10% and 15% before the intifada, he says.

According to Dr Shtayyeh, until a year ago, about a quarter of the working population travelled to Israel to work. But at the start of the intifada, more than 100,000 people were laid off overnight.

People are using all their survivalist resources in order to get by, but they are not magicians

Dr Hisham Awartani, economist

The Palestinian Authority is now the biggest employer. It has absorbed some of the unemployed but is only able to continue to pay people's wages through the assistance of the European Union and the Islamic Development Bank.

Dr Shtayyeh says the Palestinian authority used to receive on average $60m a month in taxes from Israel, but since last October, Israel has withheld these taxes.

Farms and businesses have experienced a collapse in their markets.

Road blocks

The Israeli market, which receives between 90% and 95% of Palestinian exports, is only intermittently accessible - Palestinian products are barely getting through and farmers are unable to harvest their crops because of road blocks and intimidation, said Dr Shtayyeh.

The biggest disruption is caused by transport problems. Many major roads have been bulldozed - at a cost of millions of dollars in aid - and Israeli roadblocks make it difficult to use the remaining mountain paths and farm roads.

Palestinians queue at an Israeli checkpoint
Queuing has become a way of life

Dr Shtayyeh puts the total cost of damage to the infrastructure at $200m - including roads, public buildings and water networks.

"It will take at least five or six years to repair the damage inflicted in the last 10 months, he said. "We are back to square one."

Dr Awartani says one consequence of the destruction is that some students are paying the equivalent of an entire family wage just to travel to and from university. Many have been forced to drop out.

Food intake

People have cut back on their food intake - especially meat, which many can afford to eat only once a fortnight. Food is being distributed in the refugee camps by UN agencies.

"People help each other, but we cannot go very far in that direction because of scarce resources. I can help five or six families, but the need is far greater than that, " said Dr Awartani.

It will take at least five or six years to repair the damage inflicted in the last 10 months. We are back to square one.

Dr Mahmoud Shtayyeh, director of Pecdar

In its latest report, the United Nations Special Co-ordinator (Unsco) says "preliminary results of a recent field survey indicate that an increasing number of Palestinians, especially in Gaza, have lost their principal source of income and are failing to meet basic consumption needs".

Dr Awartani says the EU should now work with the large number of non-governmental organisations operating in West Bank and Gaza who have an efficient network for distributing aid.

"The EU in the past, quite rightly, focused on higher level projects, like building hospitals and laboratories - but now we have a more urgent priority - survival," he said.

See also:

20 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinians under siege
17 Aug 01 | Middle East
Inside Israel's circle of violence
08 Dec 00 | Middle East
Intifada: Then and now
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