Life in the Gaza Strip

Home to 1.8 million people, Gaza is 40km (25 miles) long and 10km wide, an enclave bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel and Egypt.

Map: Life in Gaza

Originally occupied by Egypt, which retains control of Gaza's southern border, the coastal territory was captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.

In 2005, Israel withdrew its troops and some 7,000 settlers.

A year later, the militant Islamist group Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections. It ruled Gaza from 2007 to 2014 following a violent rift with the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

When Hamas took over in Gaza, Israel swiftly imposed a blockade on the territory, restricting the movement of goods and people in and out. Egypt meanwhile blockaded Gaza's southern border.

Palestinian women show their passports to Egyptian border guards at the Rafah border crossing (12 July 2014) Since Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007, Egypt has largely kept its border with Gaza closed

Already limited, freedom of movement and access to Gaza were reduced significantly after mid-2013, when Egypt put new restrictions in place at the Rafah border crossing and launched a crackdown on the network of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

In the first half of 2013, 40,000 people were crossing each month at Rafah. From July to December 2013, the traffic was reduced to about 9,550 per month.

In recent years, Rafah had become the primary entry and exit point to Gaza for Palestinians as a result of Israeli restrictions at the Erez crossing in the north.

The smuggling tunnels had meanwhile proliferated after the tightening of the blockade of Gaza. They were used to import construction materials, livestock, fuel, food, cash and weapons.

The easing of the blockade in June 2010 saw the number of operating tunnels decrease from about 1,000 to approximately 200 to 300. Smugglers focused on transferring construction materials for the private sector and fuel that was cheaper to purchase in Egypt than Israel.

The crackdown on the tunnels that started in June 2013 resulted in an almost total halt in smuggling, triggering shortages of building materials and fuel, and a surge in the price of food.

Palestinian man is lowered into a smuggling tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border (11 September 2013) Tunnels were dug under the Egyptian border to bring in all kinds of goods, and weapons

Gazans are, on average, worse off than in the 1990s. Twenty-one percent are in deep poverty, living on less than 1,832 shekels ($534; £313) a month, compared with 7.8% in the West Bank.

The unemployment rate in the Strip is 40.8%, significantly higher than in the West Bank. Of particular concern is the high youth unemployment rate, which stands at more than 50% in Gaza.

The Hamas-run economy ministry estimated that the crackdown on smuggling had cost Gaza's economy $460m in 2013. The reduction of revenue from tax collection on smuggling also led the government to delay the payment of salaries to Gaza's 50,000 civil servants.

The severe shortage of building materials led to a surge in prices and a sharp slowdown in the construction sector, which employs about 10% of the workforce. The fuel shortage saw meanwhile thousands of workers employed in the transport, fishing and agricultural sectors lose income.

Palestinian girls at a UN-run school in Gaza City (25 August 2013) Many children attend schools run by the UN

Gaza's school system is under pressure. The UN, which runs many of the territory's schools, says an additional 440 schools are needed by 2020 to cope with the expected growth in the population.

Some 463,600 children attend 694 primary and secondary schools. To make up for the shortage of educational facilities, 67% of government and 71% of UN schools run on double shifts, limiting instruction time. Classes are also large, with anywhere between 40 to 50 pupils in each.

This has led to shorter school days and lower enrolment in the secondary system. Training and vocational opportunities are also few and far between. That said, official figures for literacy are high; 93% for women, 98% for men.

Thirteen schools are located in areas near the Gaza-Israel fence which often see clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Palestinian at the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza (18 June 2014) Some of Gaza's refugee camps lack basic amenities

Gaza's population is expected to grow to 2.13 million by the end of the decade.

This will also result in an increase in the population density which is already one of the highest in the world. On average, some 4,505 people live on every square kilometre in Gaza. That's expected to rise to 5,835 people per square kilometre by 2020.

The UN says there is a shortage of 70,000 housing units due to natural population growth, as well as the damage caused by Israel's ground offensive in December 2008-January 2009. Some 12,000 people remain displaced after the destruction of their homes.

The ratio of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 to the total over-15 population is exceptionally high, at 53%. This leads to a high dependency rate.

Should the economy pick up there will be plenty of young people of working age. But if not, there is the potential for social tension, violence and extremism, according to the UN.

graphic: gaza population density
Palestinian woman undergoes kidney dialysis at the Shifa hospital in Gaza (16 February 2012) Electricity and fuel shortages have disrupted the functioning of medical facilities

The UN says that while health indicators in Gaza are comparable to middle and high-income countries, quality needs to be improved. It says most health facilities are unable to provide adequate care and need to be upgraded.

Access to public health services has worsened as a result of the measures adopted by the Egyptian authorities in mid-2013, according to the UN.

The closure of the Rafah crossing reduced the number of patients travelling to Egypt for treatment from a monthly average of 4,146 to 305, with only very sick people or special cases allowed to enter, and disrupted the supply of critical medicines. Gaza's ministry of health had previously depended on Egypt to treat 20% of its outside referrals and for 25% of its drug supplies.

Since 2008 Israel has increased the number of medical cases it allows in from Gaza for treatment.

Egypt's closure of smuggling tunnels led to severe fuel and electricity shortages that disrupted the functioning of medical facilities. Frequent and prolonged power cuts strained hospitals' back-up power sources, affecting medical equipment and leading to interrupted or postponed treatment.

Fishermen repair their nets on a beach in the southern Gaza Strip (6 July 2014) Not so long ago, Gaza had a thriving fishing industry

The level of food insecurity in Gaza increased from 44% to 57% between 2012 and 2013. Eighty per cent of Gaza's population receive some form of food aid as few have sufficient money to pay for their basic needs.

Israeli restrictions on access to agricultural land and fishing add to the challenges.

Gazans are also not allowed to farm in the Israeli-declared buffer zone - 1.5km (0.9 miles) wide on the Gaza side of the border - and this has led to a loss in production of an estimated 75,000 tonnes of produce a year. The restricted area coincides with what is considered Gaza's best arable land.

Following the November 2012 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, the fishing limit was extended from three nautical miles to six. However, it has been periodically reduced to three nautical miles in response to rocket fire from Gaza. Israeli naval forces frequently open fire towards Palestinian fishing boats approaching or exceeding the limit. The UN says if the limit was lifted, fishing could provide employment and a cheap source of protein for the people of Gaza.

Palestinian children stand near a candle during a power cut in Beit Lahia (12 November 2013) Power cuts in Gaza disrupt almost all aspects of daily life

Power cuts are an every-day occurrence in Gaza. It gets most of its power from Israel together with further contributions from Gaza's only power plant and a small amount from Egypt. However, this is less than its current needs.

Many homes have their own generators, but fuel is extremely expensive to buy.

The shortage of fuel caused by the Egyptian crackdown on smuggling affected the production of electricity at the Gaza Power Plant (GPP), which had become dependent on cheap Egyptian diesel.

After depleting its reserves, the plant was forced to shut down for 43 days in late 2013, triggering lengthy power outages and severely disrupting the provision of basic services, including health, main water and sanitation facilities. The plant resumed operations after the Palestinian Authority bought fuel from Israel with funds donated from Qatar. There was a shorter outage in March 2014.

Offshore there is a gas field which the UN says could provide all the territory's power needs if it was developed. Any surplus could be ploughed into development.

Palestinian youths cross a flooded street on a cart following heavy rainfall in Gaza City on 13 December 2013 Heavy rainfall in December 2013 overwhelmed Gaza's storm water and sewage systems

Gaza has little rain and no major fresh water source to replenish it underground water supplies which are not large enough to keep up with demand.

Salt from the sea has seeped into underground supplies raising salination levels above acceptable levels for drinking water. Only 5.5% of the piped water meets World Health Organisation (WHO) quality standards and some 340,000 people in the Strip were forced to consume drinking water of unacceptable quality in 2013, according to the UN.

Treatment of waste water and sewage is another headache. Gaza relies on waste water treatment plants that are either working beyond their capacity or were constructed as temporary installations for partial treatment. As a result, about 90 million litres of untreated or partially treated sewage is pumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day, creating pollution, public health hazard and problems for the fishing industry.

The shutdown of Gaza's power plant in November 2013 due to a fuel shortage and the inability of waste water treatment plant operators to keep their generators running led to the release of sewage into the storm water system and the flooding of sewage stations.

When winter storm Alexa struck the next month, inundating the storm water system with rainfall, entire areas across Gaza were flooded with a mixture of sewage and storm water, creating public health concerns.

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