Poverty could double in the West Bank as coronavirus takes toll, World Bank warns

The bank estimates the percentage of poor households in the West Bank will increase from 14% to 30% in 2020.

al-monitor A Palestinian boy leans against the entrance to his house in Qalandiya Refugee Camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, ahead of Nakba Day, May 13, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Ammar Awad.

Jun 1, 2020

The number of Palestinians living below the poverty line could more than double this year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to exacerbate the existing financial crisis in the West Bank, the World Bank warned in a report June 1. 

“Going forward, the outlook for the Palestinian economy looks grim especially after the COVID-19 outbreak,” the Washington-based bank said. “At this point, it is not possible to say how long it will take for the economy to recover from the current containment measures."

The Palestinian Authority (PA) faces a financing gap of more than $1.5 billion this year, due in part to years of decreased donor support, declining revenues and increased spending on health care, the World Bank report said.

The World Bank further warned the Palestinian economy is expected to shrink by at least 7.6% in 2020, and in the event of a slower recovery, up to 11%. The economy grew by just 1% in 2019. 

Rampant unemployment has worsened amid the COVID-19 crisis in the Palestinian territories, where a lack of tourism and other coronavirus-related restrictions have left many without an income for months. More than 100,000 Palestinians are no longer crossing into Israel for work. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the number of Palestinians in the West Bank living below the poverty line stood at 14%. The bank estimates the percentage of poor households will increase to 30% in 2020. 

The report said actions by the PA won’t be enough to stimulate the economy, and it called on the government of Israel to do more to support the region’s finances. The World Bank also recommended the Palestinian territories further develop digital infrastructure. 

With just three deaths out of 450 confirmed cases, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have recorded relatively low coronavirus numbers compared to neighboring states. Amid a declining number of infections, the Palestinian territories have eased restrictions in recent weeks. All businesses, mosques and churches were given permission to reopen, and public transportation has resumed.

The World Bank forecast comes as Israel prepares to annex parts of the West Bank, which the United Nations warned could trigger a fresh round of violence and “more extremist politics on both sides will inevitably result."

The UN called on international donors to support the Palestinian economy amid the COVID-19 crisis, writing that “different and bolder action is required to avert economic collapse."

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