The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza has left the densely populated territory in tatters, with unprecedented destruction that will take tens of billions of dollars and likely decades to repair, according to a new UN report.
Widespread Devastation Documented
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, released on January 31st, 2024, estimates that over 50% of Gaza’s buildings have been either destroyed or damaged beyond repair over the course of the nearly 4-month long conflict. This includes around 74,000 housing and commercial units that have been rendered uninhabitable, leaving over 450,000 people homeless.
Satellite imagery analysis by UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), captured below, starkly illustrates the scale of demolition across Gaza:
|% of Buildings Destroyed/Damaged
Satellite images analyzed by UNOSAT document widespread building destruction in Gaza. Image credit: UNITAR
Alongside homes and businesses, the fighting has also ravaged vital infrastructure like roads, power plants, water lines and sewage systems. Iconic landmarks such as al-Jalaa tower, the headquarters of international media outlets like the AP and Al-Jazeera, have been reduced to rubble.
Experts warn that Israel may be deliberately engineering a buffer zone inside Gaza by razing buildings near the boundary fence, in order to prevent rocket fire and infiltration attempts. However, this would further displace Palestinian residents and undercut reconstruction efforts.
Gaza’s Economy Crippled for Decades
The new report offers a dire economic outlook for Gaza in the aftermath of the conflict, estimating it could take up to 30 years just to regain pre-war gross domestic product (GDP) levels.
UNCTAD expects Gaza’s economy to contract by 10-15% in 2024 as a direct result of the hostilities. Major industries like agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing have largely ground to a halt amidst the violence, while the war has also deterred foreign investment and tourism. Gaza’s exports have declined over 60% since 2018, exacerbating dire economic conditions.
Unemployment currently hovers around 70%, and over 80% of Gazans rely on humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs. Poverty and food insecurity will surge as vital supply lines remain severed.
The UN warns that without immediate large-scale financial assistance for reconstruction, Gaza risks becoming “unliveable.” But even with aid, economic recovery is expected to be painfully slow:
|Projected GDP (compared to 2018 baseline)
International Response and Outlook
In response to the crisis, the UN and related agencies have appealed for $4.8 billion in emergency funding for early recovery efforts and basic humanitarian relief. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Israeli and Palestinian authorities have a “responsibility” to rapidly allow aid and building materials into Gaza to prevent a deepening catastrophe.
However, clashes periodically continue along the Israel-Gaza border as militant groups threaten renewed rocket attacks in response to the ongoing blockade and economic hardship. On February 2nd, Israeli jets reportedly struck Hamas militant sites in Gaza after gunfire targeted workers building an underground barrier system.
While the recent Abraham Accords have unlocked ties between Israel and some Arab states, the peace process with Palestinians remains stalled. Experts say a lasting political solution is urgently needed to prevent recurring bloodshed. But with tensions still raw, the path forward remains unclear.
For the residents of Gaza, the painstaking work of digging out from the rubble has only just begun. “Everything beautiful has been destroyed,” said recent university graduate Majd Masharawi, surveying his neighborhood in ruins. “This will take not years but decades to fix.”
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