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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
30 September 2005

I. Special Focus: Rising Poverty in 2005

How poor are Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – and is their poverty worsening? With a variety of measurements for poverty being used the subject is shrouded in debate, and inevitably, politics.

According to the findings below, poverty levels are high in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and worsening. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening and more people state they need humanitarian assistance than ever before.

This Update focuses on the numbers of poor, their location and the reasons behind their poverty.1 A clear understanding is needed to target assistance. In November, an international appeal for emergency assistance for Palestinians will be launched for the fourth consecutive year. It will ask donors for around $215 million in aid for Palestinians. Its aim is to target those most poor.

How Many Palestinians are Poor?
In the oPt depending on what measures are used, poverty is estimated to be between 45 – 70% of the population. This is a wide variation, but the fact remains that a large proportion of the Palestinian population is poor, living on under $2.20 per person per day. And, it appears to be worsening.

What the surveys say:

Explaining the variation
Palestinians do not appear as poor under a consumption-based definition of poverty compared to the income-based definitions. The difference (final bullet point above) is because an income-based definition of poverty does not account for the role played by savings, credit, borrowing and food grown for home consumption.8 However, these poverty-mitigating strategies – to use remaining savings, go unsustainable.

The fact that people are increasingly relying on them reinforces the importance of food aid as a form of income support that allows people to use their resources for other essential needs. Reducing food aid, therefore, is likely to put extreme stress on these already-stretched strategies.

How does poverty in Israel and oPt compare?
A common source of confusion is the comparison of poverty between the oPt and Israel. As of December 2004, the poverty line in oPt is $2.20 per day per member of a benchmark family.9 In comparison, the official Israeli poverty line for the same family is $7.30 per day per member (Figure 1).

How Poor are the Poor?
Different measures developed by PCBS estimate that anywhere between 16% and 44% – or between 602,000 and 1,660,000 Palestinians – are unable to afford the basics for survival in spite of large external assistance.10 Adopting an income-based poverty definition, 44% of people are spending less than $1.60 per person per day. Adopting a consumption-based poverty measure, 16% of the population is spending less than $1.60 per person per day.

Again, whatever the measure, there is a very large proportion of the population at the very bottom with limited ability to cope. Figure 2 provides a breakdown of the poor and subsistence poor, according to the Palestinian Perceptions Survey.

The Poor are Getting Poorer
Traditionally, Palestinians thought that their situation was similar to others in the community, a situation that promoted strong social cohesion. That is now changing. The majority still feel it to be the case, but the number of Palestinians who feel their situation is worse than their neighbours is growing, indicating growing pessimism and a perception of rising inequality (Figure 3). Findings from the Palestinian Perceptions surveys suggest that the proportion of households in the West Bank who think that their household’s financial situation is worse than others in the community has increased from 16% to 29%.

Inequality is also increasing. According to the World Bank, the richest 10% of the population consumed 25% of total consumption in 1998 compared with 38% in 2003 (Figure 3). However, this trend appears to be due to the bottom getting poorer than the top 10% of the population doing better.

Where are the Poor?
(See map on page 2)
Location is a key determinant of poverty. People in Gaza are poorest (with 37% in poverty and 26% in subsistence poverty).11 Residents of the middle area in the West Bank are least likely to be poor (with just 6.7% living in poverty and 4% living in subsistence poverty).12 In the West Bank, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and Tubas have the highest poverty levels. Poverty in East Jerusalem is low compared to other parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but the number of Palestinians in subsistence poverty in Jerusalem tripled in 2004 from 2% to 6%.13

In general, poverty is more prevalent in camps and villages compared to urban areas although deterioration of the situation in the urban and rural West Bank is marked.14

Who are the Poor?
The bigger the household, the more likely it is to be poor. This is because a greater proportion of members are likely to be dependents. Single-person households are also more likely to be poor than households with between 2 – 5 members, possibly because they are elderly or isolated and without support networks (Figure 4).

Other factors that shape Palestinian poverty include the following15:
Why are the Poor Poor?
The main reasons for the climbing poverty rates are job loss and the reduction of working hours (See map on page 3).17 The West Bank Barrier has also significantly impacted communities located nearby. In these areas the poverty rate is 65%, higher than the 57% average for the oPt as a whole (Figure 5).

In the Gaza Strip, damage to businesses and land has also resulted in income loss. In Jerusalem, the increase in prices of goods and transportation costs related to the construction of the Barrier and mobility restrictions are also important.

Growing Need for assistance
The need for assistance appears to be growing. Around 70% of households in the oPt said they needed assistance during the first quarter of 2005, a rise over the last two quarters (Figure 6).18 The need for food, employment and financial assistance has increased in the last year (Figure 7), while assistance received has actually fallen (Figure 8). Palestinians continue to view employment as the most important unmet need and as the best way of improving their situation.

II. Monitoring Issues

III. New humanitarian reports

Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur John Dugard: Israel’s disengagement from Gaza has allowed Israeli to continue with the construction of the Barrier, settlement expansion and “de-Palestinization” of Jerusalem. Professor Dugard is the Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israeli since 1967. His latest report found that the Government of Israel has not respected the Advisory Opinion on the Barrier by the International Court of Justice and that the Barrier has serious consequences for Palestinians living near it. The report noted that most Israeli setters in the West Bank are now situated between the Green Line and the Barrier and existing settlements in these closed areas are expanding and new settlements being built. Settler violence has also increased.

The report stated that Israel has embarked on major changes in Jerusalem. Jewish settlements within East Jerusalem are being expanded and plans are afoot to link Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’ale Adumin, thereby cutting the West Bank in two. See []

PCBS: 149 West Bank Palestinian localities are affected by the Barrier including 15 localities located in closed areas. PCBS reported that a total of 47,921 dunums (4,792 hectares) of Palestinian land has been requisitioned by the Israeli military during the building of the Barrier. As of June 2005 the survey found that 301,122 dunums (30,112 hectares) of West Bank land is located between the Green Line and the Barrier. A total of 2,448 households were displaced from the affected localities since the beginning of construction and 1,702 economic establishments closed. Survey results show that 124 localities affected by the Barrier are receiving humanitarian assistance. See []

B’Tselem and Bimkom: Barrier Route was planned to enable settlement expansion. The report, Under the Guise of Security, released by two Israeli NGOs, found that the expansion of settlements in the West Bank was the primary consideration in deciding the route of the Barrier in many areas. According to the authors, “not only were security-related reasons of secondary importance in certain locations, in cases when they conflicted with settlement expansion, the planners opted for expansion, even at the expense of compromised security”. See []

IV. Humanitarian assistance to the oPt

European Commission contributes €280 million in 2005. The EC package includes a €60 million contribution to the priorities identified by Quartet’s Special Envoy for Disengagement to help revive the Palestinian economy and create institutions capable of addressing the new responsibilities arising following disengagement.

Canada pledges additional $24.5 million. This is intended to help strengthen PA capacity and improve the lives of the Palestinian people. The announcement brings the total figure for Canada's increased assistance to the Palestinian people to $36.7 million.

Japan contributes $5.5 million to rehabilitate shelter. Japan announced a $5.5 million contribution to UNRWA, which will enable UNRWA to reconstruct 333 demolished or unsafe structures which are home to refugee families in eight camps across the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Committee for the Relief of Palestinian People donates $3.6 million to Palestinian children: This donation to UNICEF is to support Palestinian teenagers through education and health programs.

USAID provides $1.3 million to support co-existence. This funding is focused on psychological and social rehabilitation and includes training for physicians and social workers and the production of a joint Israeli-Palestinian TV drama series. In a separate multi-million dollar contribution, USAID will invest in advanced vehicular scanning technology and streamlined customs procedures at four crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

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