November 2011 - A new World Bank report on poverty in the West Bank and Gaza highlights the need “to intensify efforts to improve the Palestinian ability to create jobs,” said Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at a discussion in Ramallah recently, focused on the new findings.
The report is the first since 2001 to take a look at the unusual dynamics of poverty in the West Bank and Gaza where, particularly in Gaza, donor aid is driving a reduction in poverty but unemployment continues to climb. The report was released by the World Bank at two separate events in Ramallah and Gaza.
Movement and access restrictions imposed by Israel for security have “constrained growth, investment and consequently job creation that is essential for a young and highly educated population,” notes the report. Easing these restrictions and lifting the closure regime is the “single most important reform” in addressing poverty issues in West Bank and Gaza, according to the report’s analysis.
“The current system,” said Fayyad, “limits our ability to live in 60 percent of the territory in the West Bank. This report reflects the reality on the ground.”
World Bank Country Director Mariam Sherman acknowledged the “very unique circumstances” in West Bank and Gaza.
“It’s not just about the number of checkpoints,” said Sherman. “It’s about access to goods and services, the ability to trade, all the things necessary for economic growth and opportunity.”
A research team led by Tara Vishwanath, a Lead Economist in the Middle East and North Africa region of the Bank, collaborated for the better part of a year to develop the assessment, partnering with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The team found a number of surprises along the way.
“Across the world, poverty is usually linked to human development,” said Vishwanath. “This is not the case in the West Bank and Gaza. The human development outcomes here are some of the best in the world.”
Childhood nutrition indicators in the West Bank and Gaza are on par with the United States, it has near universal prenatal care, high vaccination rates and over 90 percent enrollment in schools.
“What we found was a lack of access to job opportunities, linked to poverty,” said Vishwanath. “Especially in Gaza, there are high rates of unemployment, low labor force participation, few jobs outside the public sector and a large number of families living very close to poverty’s edge. Over 70 percent of Gazans rely on some form of social assistance to survive.”
In focus groups conducted for the study, Vishwanath’s researchers found “people clamoring for political freedom and economic opportunity.” More and more, educated young people are dropping out of the labor force because the jobs simply aren’t there.
Vishwanath said the high unemployment numbers documented in the study don’t tell the whole story. “Underemployment is a significant problem as well,” she said, “with one in four Palestinians working less than 35 hours a week.”