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U.N.: Gaza to be unlivable by 2020 unless serious action taken

August 27, 2012 |  2:35 pm

Gazachild

The Gaza Strip will be drained of safe water to drink and perilously short on schools, homes and hospitals if serious action isn’t taken to help its booming young population, the United Nations said in a new report released Monday. The rising pressures could soon make Gaza unlivable, it warned.

The coastal Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas is expected to swell by half a million people by 2020, putting grave new pressures on an already strained area, the U.N. country team found.

Under an Israeli blockade meant to isolate and disarm Hamas, the Gaza economy “is fundamentally unviable,” the U.N. says in its report. Though Israel eased the blockade somewhat two years ago and Gaza's economy has recently grown, the territory remains heavily dependent on outside aid and illegal smuggling to survive. Nearly a third of its people are unemployed.

Israeli leaders say the blockade is needed to stop weapons from reaching Hamas, an Islamic militant group that has refused to recognize Israel. The blockade remains deeply controversial among aid agencies and human rights activists, who argue that it hurts ordinary Gazans.

SERIES: Beyond 7 billion

Gaza is already suffering a shortfall of 71,000 housing units and as many as 250 schools. Over the next eight years, a projected population increase  to 2.1 million from from 1.6 million would require roughly 800 hospital beds and 190 more schools on top of the existing shortfall, the U.N. found.

The boom would also necessitate more than twice as much electricity for Gaza, where people already face regular power cuts, and could irreparably damage the coastal aquifer that supplies almost all of the territory's water. Palestinians in Gaza already consume far more water than flows back into the aquifer, depleting the water supply and causing salt water to leak in at troubling levels.

With more thirsty mouths to quench, the water source could be unusable in just four years and irreversibly damaged by 2020, the report says.

“The challenges will only become more acute, particularly if the current political status quo continues,” the report says, adding, "As a heavily urbanized environment with little room for further growth, Gaza needs to be open and accessible to the world."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Palestinian youths collect plastic and metal to sell to traders from waste piles in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday. Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP/Getty Images

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