Life in the Gaza Strip

After eight days of conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement in Gaza in which five Israelis and over 150 Palestinians died, a ceasefire is taking hold and some semblance of normal life is returning.

We take a look at life in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated and volatile regions in the world.

Home to 1.6 million people, Gaza is just 40km (25 miles) long and 10km wide, an enclave bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel and Egypt.

Originally administered by Egypt which retains control of Gaza's southern border, the area was captured by the Israelis in 1967 during the Six Day War.

In 2005, after 38 years during which Israeli settlements were a constant source of tension, Israel withdrew its troops and settlers.

A year later the Islamist militant group Hamas won elections in Gaza. In June 2007, Hamas took complete control of the strip, ousting the more moderate rival Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas which runs parts of the West Bank.

The Israelis swiftly tightened a blockade on Gaza, restricting the transit of goods and people into and out of the territory.


Shoe shop on the back of a van Shoes for sale at a makeshift street market

With Israel's blockade choking off opportunities to trade with the outside world, Gaza is largely dependent on external aid and the shadow 'tunnel' economy.

Gazans are, on average, worse off than in the 1990s. Unemployment is around a 30% climbing to 58% for those aged between 20 and 24 years.

Farming has an important but limited role due to lack of access to water and the buffer zones imposed by Israel along the border.

Fishing for Gaza's 3,000 fishermen is also restricted. Ten years ago, they could fish out to 12 nautical miles from the coast. That is now limited to three nautical miles.

The only part of the economy that could be said to be booming is the tunnel economy. Hundreds of these have been built under the border with Egypt, allowing the movement of goods in and out of the territory. The tunnels are also used to bring weapons into Gaza.

Iyad Tah is a software engineer, who graduated about three months ago. He is currently working as a youth volunteer.

"There is no work. Unemployment rates are very high here in Gaza," he told BBC online.

Despite this, he says his family can afford their basic needs.

"We are very happy when everything is safe and we are living a normal life...I had the opportunity to move abroad a long time ago but every time I come back, because this is where I belong," he said.


Girls in a UN school 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. More than half the population in Gaza under the age of 18

As it is a majority operate a double shift system to accommodate all its pupils. Classes are large, anywhere between 40 to 50 in each. This means shorter school days and enrolment is lower in the secondary system. Training and vocational opportunities are few and far between.

That said, official figures for literacy are high; 93% for women, 98% for men.

Najla is an aid worker in Gaza. She says there is a shortage of schools and not enough space to build any new ones. There are some limited work creation programmes, but even the funding for these has dried up recently.

Najla said: "There are colleges and universities in Gaza, there are about five or six, but it's so limited because there are so many graduates without jobs so the market is over-saturated."


Gaza's population is expected to grow from the current 1.64 million 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 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.

Gaza population density

Food and health

The majority of homes receive some form of food assistance from the UN as few have sufficient money to pay for their basic needs. Households spend on average 50% of their income on food. Some 39% live below the poverty line.

Israeli restrictions on access to agricultural land and fishing adds to the challenges. The UN says if the Israeli limits were lifted, fishing could provide employment and be a cheap source of protein for the people of Gaza.

Gazans are not allowed to farm in Israeli-declared buffer zone - within 1,500m of the border - and this has led to a loss in production of about 75,000 tonnes of produce a year, according to UN estimates.

Hamada Abuqammar works as a BBC producer in Gaza. Most of his extended family live in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the strip.

Many people survive on UN food aid, he says. "But it is not enough. Just some flour and rice and a few cans.

"The crossings are closed. People need to survive. We depend economically for our daily basic needs to survive on Israeli goods. Right now the crossing is closed. There is no milk, no yoghurt, no flour to make bread. There is nothing in the market."

Diet is something the UN believes might be affecting the health of some in the Gaza Strip, particularly pregnant women and children.

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.


Palestinians trying to extinguish fire A home generator hit in an Israeli air strike

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 which have been growing at a rate of 10% a year.

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

Najla, the aid worker, said: "We get at least like eight hours cut a day...Sometimes it's eight hours on and eight hours off.

"In the winter when there is high demand for heating, we get less hours."

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.

Water and sanitation

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.

The UN describes the situation for water and sanitation as "critical".

Salt from the sea has seeped into underground supplies raising salination levels above acceptable levels for drinking water.

Availability of clean water is below the global WHO standard of 100 litres per person per day.

Treatment of waste water and sewage is another headache. Some 90,000 cubic meters of waste water or sewage is pumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day creating pollution, public health hazard and problems for the fishing industry.


Sunset at Gaza beach Families go to the beach, but sewage is a big problem

As one might imagine, there is little in the way of entertainment in Gaza.

"There is no life in Gaza", says Hamada who has a young family in Gaza. Their main source of entertainment is meeting up with extended family and friends.

"In the summer we go to the beach and we cook and have food on the beach or by the sunset and wait for the electricity to come back on.

"You have to create happiness. It isn't about your job, your money, it is about freedom, it is about what you want to do in your life.

"My only hope so far is to be feeling in Gaza as a human being. To be treated outside Gaza as a human being."

More on This Story

Mid-East crisis

More Middle East stories


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • ConcordeTime for change

    BBC Future looks at the crashes that altered plane designs forever


  • French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier HARDtalk Watch

    French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier on why he uses unconventional models in shows

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.