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UN says Gaza unemployment rate at 45%

Feb. 10, 2011 11:42 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 22, 2011 12:07 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- The unemployment rate in Gaza has continued to climb in 2011, reaching 45.4%, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told reporters in Gaza City on Wednesday.

At a news conference for the UN Relief and Works Agency, Gunness warned that the increasing unemployment was a sign of a hugely fragile Gaza economy, which he described as on the "brink of collapse."

Israel's continued siege on the coastal enclave, Gunness warned, would push the economy over the edge.

Since Israel announced its "ease" on restrictions, during the second quarter of 2010, unemployment in Gaza rose from 44.3 percent to 45.4 percent, UN numbers showed.

Such high unemployment, the official said, meant "people have less money in their pockets and more despair," adding a caution, that despair in Gaza would give no boost to a peace process when it got back on track.

For those employed the outlook was no less grim, Gunness said, with salaries dropping by 9.5 percent from mid 2009 to mid 2010.

"We will be facing a real problem," he said.

UNRWA, the UN organization charged with taking care of the Palestinian refugees in the Near East, has repeatedly warned of the dangerous humanitarian situation in Gaza. With a population of over 70 percent refugees, the agency is often the only means of support for people in the besieged coastal enclave.

Officials from the organization have criticized the blockade of Gaza, and called on Israel to allow manufacturing and reconstruction materials into the area.

In June, Israeli officials vowed to loosen the blockade, and began increasing the type and amount of goods for import. The changes stopped there, however, with UN offices complaining of wheat, animal food and construction material shortages, which have halted the operation of farms, bakeries and reconstruction projects.

The increased number and variety of foods on Gaza market shelves, officials say, makes little difference to families who cannot afford to buy them.

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