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West Bank poverty may double over pandemic: World Bank

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Poverty in the occupied West Bank may double as Palestinians are hammered by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Bank warned on Monday.

The Palestinian territories have seen low infection rates after authorities acted quickly to curtail the spread of COVID-19, with three deaths from 450 cases registered among some five million residents in the Gaza Strip and the illegally occupied West Bank.

But the Palestinian Authority’s financial situation is “expected to become increasingly difficult” due to a loss of income and increased spending on healthcare and other areas, the World Bank said in a report.

The fallout is expected to see the number of households living below the poverty line increase this year from 14 to 30 percent in the West Bank, largely due to Palestinians being unable to cross into Israel for work.

The PA last week announced an end to the lockdown it had imposed in early March across the West Bank after an outbreak of the COVID-19 illness in Bethlehem.

The easing allowed more than 63,000 Palestinians to pass through checkpoints for work on Sunday, according to the Israeli military branch handling civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The borders of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007, remain closed to all but a few returning Palestinians, who are quarantined on arrival.

The poverty rate was already 53 percent in Gaza before the pandemic and the World Bank forecast it would jump to 64 percent this year.

Overall, the Palestinian economy is set to shrink between 7.6 and 11 percent, the global body said, a severe downturn after 1 percent growth in 2019.

Despite the PA taking steps to manage the economic blow brought by the coronavirus, the World Bank said its financial gap “could increase alarmingly” from $800m last year to $1.5bn this year.

“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 bank said.

“The Palestinian Authority has acted early and decisively to save lives,” said Kanthan Shankar, the World Bank director for the occupied Palestinian territories. “However, several years of declining donor support and the limited economic instruments available have turned the ability of the government to protect livelihoods into a monumental task.”

More than a quarter of Palestinians lived in poverty before the virus. The World Bank says the figure has likely risen to 30 percent in the occupied West Bank and 64 percent in the Gaza Strip.

The report recommended investing in mobile networks to boost the economy.

Palestinians rely on 2G and 3G mobile data networks in Gaza and the West Bank respectively, while some countries are already adopting 5G.

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