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Israel-Hamas war could set Palestinian economies back decades in Gaza, West Bank

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Gaza, there's the immediate toll of war - thousands of people killed, families uprooted and homeless, communities destroyed. Now, a new report from the United Nations Development Programme tries to measure what the war's long-term effects could be on Palestinian quality of life and the economy. Achim Steiner heads the program, and he joins me now. Good morning. Thank you for being here.

ACHIM STEINER: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So your report projects a sharp decline in Gaza's Human Development Index. It says this measure of well-being could drop by up to 19 years. What does that actually mean?

STEINER: Well, first of all, what we have tried to do is to use all the data available to assess the impact of the first month of fighting and looking through the lens of poverty, job losses, internal displacement, housing, stock, GDP growth - assess the impact on people and the economy. And essentially out of that comes some very sobering statistics - a 20% increase in poverty, 300,000 people in Gaza thrown into poverty, 61% of employment lost, a 4.2% drop in GDP. That's over 857 million just lost now. We then use economic models to look at if the war continues for a second month, how would that translate? And so again, poverty increases by 34%. Half a million people fall into poverty, $1.7 billion losses. And when you add that up in terms of loss of education, income, et cetera, we have a composite index, the Human Development Index, that we publish for all countries every year. And the setback for Gaza alone at the moment would be around 16 years of development loss, so to speak, in the occupied Palestinian territory due to the war in Gaza.

FADEL: Now, I'm sure you're seeing the images coming out of Gaza the last few days, tens of thousands of civilians walking, some with white flags, out of northern Gaza during these pauses in the fighting. There are more - among more than 1 1/2 million people displaced within the Gaza Strip. What does it mean to have so many internally displaced people in this besieged enclave when it comes to the effects on livelihood and well-being?

STEINER: Well, this is very much part of what we are also documenting as part of our development mandate together with our economic and social commission. We are looking at the development crisis unfolding underneath the humanitarian catastrophe that we have been witnessing, and the importance of that is to realize that we are creating a set of conditions where, as you mentioned just now, 1 1/2 million people displaced, 45% of the housing stock reportedly destroyed or damaged, 40% of education facilities have been damaged. And the implications of that are that people have nowhere to live. They have no jobs. They have no income. Their children aren't going to school. The reverberations of this destruction goes into many years in the future, and that is why it is so important to understand that on top of the humanitarian crisis right now, it is about survival. We also need to focus on what will happen to the over 2 1/2 million residents who are essentially trapped within Gaza, with the perspective of month three, month five, a year down the line?

FADEL: What will happen? I mean, if this - you talked about, this is the first month - if it goes into two, three months, five months, a year?

STEINER: Well, basically, our models show that the situation simply gets more desperate. What we are seeing is that on top of a humanitarian crisis, it is a development crisis unfolding. Poverty levels will increase. GDP losses will increase. Human development will be set back by possibly 16 or 19 years if the conflict continues into a second month. And perhaps what is most concerning is that we are essentially condemning 2 1/2 million people to an uncertain future. Just to give you a reminder, in that 2021 conflict, after one year, only 200 of the 1,700 destroyed homes had been rebuilt. So you have 1 1/2 million displaced people, 45% of the housing stock already destroyed. Imagine this goes on for another month. It is simply a development nightmare that is building up. Also on the education side, with over 40% of education facilities already destroyed or affected, you literally have a generation of children not being able to pursue education. So again, looking into the future of human development, it is a very bleak outlook.

FADEL: Achim Steiner heads the United Nations Development Programme. Thank you for your time.

STEINER: Thank you.

FADEL: For more coverage and for differing views and analysis, go to npr.org/mideastupdates. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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