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The Rebuilding of Gaza Amid Dire Conditions: Damage, Losses, and Needs

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A tower block lies in ruins in Gaza city following an Israeli air strike. © UNRWA/Mohamed Hinnawi

The eleven days of hostilities in May 2021 in Gaza resulted in the loss of over 260 people, including 66 children and 41 women, and exacerbated previous traumas in particular among children. The human toll was aggravated by overall damage and losses to the social, infrastructure, and productive and financial sectors. A Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) reveals up to US$380 million in physical damage and US$190 million in economic losses. Recovery needs have been estimated up to US$485 million during the first 24 months.  

The Gaza RDNA was conducted between May 25 to June 25, 2021 in partnership between the World Bank Group, United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) immediately after the cessation of hostilities and in close cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and in consultation with the civil society and private sector in Gaza. While the RDNA’s estimates are preliminary, they are critical to identify priority interventions.

“This is yet another unfortunate episode in which the Palestinian people in Gaza saw themselves in the midst of conflict and destruction. The humanitarian crisis is worsened in an economy with very limited ties to the outside world. Gaza’s GDP may contract by 0.3% in 2021 compared to an estimated 2.5% annual growth before the conflict. With this assessment, we hope to mobilize donors’ support to help restore dignified living conditions and livelihoods in Gaza, and lead the way to recovery.”  said Kanthan Shankar, World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza.

The recent hostilities have done more damage to already faltering socioeconomic conditions. Palestinians in Gaza have suffered from the cumulative costs, human and economic, of recurrent hostilities over the last three decades, as well as prolonged restrictions on the movement of people and commercial goods at border crossings, limits to fishing off Gaza’s coast, and now the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The alarming unemployment rate in Gaza is roughly 50% and more than half of its population lives in poverty. Following May’s hostilities, 62% of Gaza’s population were food insecure.

According to the RDNA, the estimated value of the physical damage caused by the conflict ranged between US$290 to US$380 million. The social sectors were hit the most (US$140 – 180 million), making up more than half of the total damage. Housing alone represents almost 93% of the total damage to the social sectors. The second most-severely-affected sectors are the productive and financial sectors, with agriculture and services, trade and industry at the fore.

The conflict generated economic losses (interrupted economic flows, production and services) that ranged between US$105 to US$190 million. Once again, the social sectors were the most affected with about 87% of losses caused by added health and social protection costs and unemployment. The conflict significantly weakened livelihoods and the safety nets of the most vulnerable. 

The cessation of hostilities reached last month has largely held but remains fragile. The UN is continuing its diplomatic engagements with all concerned parties to solidify the ceasefire. In the meantime, we are also ensuring that we do everything we can to meet the most urgent needs that would allow Palestinians in Gaza begin the process of recovery as quickly as possible. This RDNA is an important step in that process. I appeal to the international community to come together in support of these efforts.” said Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

The Gaza RDNA promotes the Building-Back-Better approach in Gaza, focusing on rebuilding a more resilient climate-friendly economy and infrastructure and people’s ability to absorb shocks, as well as on improving living standards and lives. Vulnerabilities that may have contributed to the impact of the conflict should, where feasible, be tackled during recovery and rehabilitation, allowing affected communities to manage and mitigate future risks. The recommended actions range from meeting immediate and future needs, such as restoring inclusive, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable infrastructure, to adopting stronger social safeguards measures and implementing targeted policy reforms. 

The immediate and short-term recovery and reconstruction needs (during the first 24 months) are estimated between US$ 345 – 485 million, with needs estimated between US$345 to US$485 million, of which US$125 to 195 million in the immediate term (from now until the end of 2021), and US$ 220 to 290 million in the short term (6 to 24 months). The priorities focus on ensuring a return to some normalcy by rapidly providing relief, repairing priority damages to infrastructure, and reinstating essential services disrupted by the conflict, to be restored at least to pre-conflict levels, if not further. 

Critical recovery needs include cash assistance to around 45,000 individuals for food and non-food assistance, providing an additional 20,000 full-time jobs for 12 months, and prioritizing housing needs for over 4,000 destroyed or partially damaged that had about 7,000 children in the families who lost their homes. Early interventions are needed to improve food production in agri-food and fishery and rehabilitate physical assets. In addition, financial support is needed to reconstruct the badly damaged micro and small enterprises that provide services, goods, and jobs to the communities, with a focus on sustainable energy- and water-efficient techniques.

Civilian causalities and the devastating socio-economic impact of this round of hostilities remind us once again that we must address the root causes of the conflict. The recovery of Gaza must be backed by a meaningful peace process that will bring security and dignity for all. While we acknowledge the importance of the RDNA exercise, the sustainability of Gaza’s recovery will depend much on the progress of the political process and a negotiated solution. Palestinian unity and democratic renewal through free and fair elections are as well of crucial importance,” said Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, EU Representative.

Beyond the immediate and short-term reconstruction period, systematic policy efforts are required to sustain recovery. This includes the Palestinian Authority’s building a sustainable governance system and creating an enabling environment for private sector-led growth and Israel’s upgrading the services at Karm Abu Salem. Support to job creation programs for men and women is needed to start with 20,000 full-time jobs for 12 months as well as training in digital skills to access the global digital value chain and overcome geographical isolation. Other areas include water reuse for agriculture, renewable energy, the expansion of health facilities and services, and improving the quality of education and bridging learning gaps. Mechanisms to ensure the protection of women, youth, and refugees are especially important.

The World Bank Group, UN and EU are committed to provide critical support to the Palestinian people and ensure swift and reliant recovery, noting that the quick to short-term recovery will depend on financial support, including from donors, as well as Israel’s cooperation to expedite access to materials and equipment intended for civilian purposes.

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Rush for new profits posing threat to human rights

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The finance industry’s demand for new sources of capital worldwide to satisfy investors, is having a serious negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights, a group of UN-appointed independent rights experts have warned

Among the rights at risk from increasing speculation in the financial markets by hedge funds and other investment funds, are the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, food, adequate housing, development, and a healthy and sustainable environment, among others.  

Exploiting the marginalized 

In a statement, the independent Special Rapporteurs and other experts, expressed their concern over the gradual encroachment of financial speculators into new areas of the economy, putting human rights at risk

They highlighted in particular, trading in areas essential for the enjoyment of human rights of marginalized, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and peasant communities, persons with disabilities and persons living with Albinism, as well as those living in areas of conflict. 

The experts also pointed out that so-called financialisation – the growth in new financial instruments since the 1980s managed by new financial services – has a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of their rights by women and girls, who are systematically victims of discrimination. The impact on older people was also highlighted. 

Effect on housing 

According to a former Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, in recent years massive amounts of global capital have been invested in housing as a commodity, as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets, and as a means of accumulating wealth. 

However, when the 2008 global financial crisis hit, many houses suddenly lost much of their value, and individuals and families were made homeless overnight. 

The expert also pointed out that in the Global South, informal settlements in Southern cities are regularly demolished for luxury housing and commercial development intended for the wealthiest groups of the population

This process of financialisation of assets, has only been reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the expert said. 

‘Speculative food bubble’ 

In agricultural markets, the experts described how the same big international banks responsible for the global financial crisis, invested billions of dollars in food futures, generating an increase in the prices of raw materials such as wheat, corn and soybean, which doubled and even tripled in a few months, creating a new speculative food bubble

According to the World Bank, between 130 and 150 million more people were pushed into extreme poverty and hunger, mainly in low-income countries depending on food imports to feed their populations. 

The experts highlighted how the financialisation of housing and food has exacerbated inequalities and exclusion, disproportionately affecting heavily indebted households and those on low incomes. 

Applying speculative logic in these areas violates the human rights of people in poverty, exacerbates gender inequality and aggravates the vulnerability of marginalized communities, they said. 

Commodifying nature 

The growing monetization and commodification of ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, were also noted by the experts. 

They warned that it threatens the sustainability of ecosystems, marginalizes natural and cultural values that have no apparent economic value, and weakens the control of indigenous peoples and local communities over their territories

The right to pollute and destroy nature is gradually being legitimized and commercialized, they said. 

They also pointed out that addressing the climate emergency often ignores both the impacts on people in poverty, and undermines the human rights and livelihoods of the poorest. 

The eviction of indigenous peoples from forests or the replacement of complex old-growth forests with monocultures of fast-growing non-native tree species was highlighted as an example of this. 

Treating housing, food, or the environment, as assets to be traded by hedge funds and other financial actors in financial derivatives markets, represents a direct attack on people’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights such as the right to housing, to food, to a healthy environment, or to drinking water and sanitation, the experts stated. 

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Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children

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A girl student in Basra, Iraq, who benefits from a UNICEF/WFP education stipend programme. UNICEF

Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.

These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children. 

The World Bank Group’s new report, Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path, builds on key priorities in education recently identified in the Government of Iraq’s White Paper and the World Bank Group’s Addressing the Human Capital Crisis: A Public Expenditure Review for Human Development Sectors in Iraq report, and provides actionable reform recommendations to boost learning and skills.

Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up. 

At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning. 

Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.  

The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:  

1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.

2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.

3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.

4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.

5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.

6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.

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More Funding for Business and Trade to Help Lao PDR Recover from Pandemic

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The World Bank and the Government of Lao PDR have agreed to scale up a Competitiveness and Trade Project that will improve the ability of businesses to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19 as part of the government’s emergency response to the pandemic. The additional financing will provide a US$6.5 million grant through the Lao Competitiveness and Trade Multi-Donor Trust Fund supported by Australia, Ireland, and the United States.

The extra funding follows a request by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for additional resources to help the government and private sector respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and related restrictions. The Lao economy, which had already been slowing since 2018 following floods, drought and crop disease outbreaks, has been hit badly by the pandemic since early 2020, causing poverty to rise by an estimated 4.4 percentage points.

This additional financing complements the government’s approach of providing rapid and direct relief to vulnerable firms and to adjusting government services to the effects of COVID-19. Helping viable businesses to survive and grow will help them maintain and create jobs, thereby driving economic recovery.

The ministry has been implementing the original Lao PDR Competitiveness and Trade Project since late 2018 with $13 million of credit and grants from the World Bank and the trust fund. The project works to improve the processes required to start and operate a business, and to reduce the costs of doing business in Laos. Measures to lower trade costs and facilitate trade flows include streamlining regulations to reduce the time that goods spend at borders. Business Assistance Facility grants are available to help companies improve their competitiveness, while the project also supports improved policy making and transparency, along with stronger public-private policy dialogue.

According to H.E. Somchith Inthamith, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, “the new financing will be used to scale up and extend activities under the original project, such as decreasing the time required for goods to clear customs, and increasing the ability of our producers to connect to markets. Additional resources will be used to help new Lao firms set up, and aid existing companies seeking grants to mitigate the impact of COVID-19”.

Mariam Sherman, Country Director for the World Bank in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, said that over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has faced significant economic stress, especially considering the effects of the crisis on important trade partners. “This project has been prepared with urgency”, she said. “It can help the Lao government accelerate policy changes and regulatory reforms that will improve the ease of doing business, facilitate trade, and support company competitiveness. Such reforms will help Lao firms weather shocks, increase their ability to do business on the ground, and provide access to international markets for necessary inputs and outputs”.

The Lao Competitiveness and Trade Multi-Donor Trust Fund is a continuing effort to improve the efficiency of development assistance for trade in the Lao PDR, by pooling resources from the World Bank, Australia, and Ireland for increased efficiency of implementation, reduced transactions costs and greater impact on-the-ground.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has committed over $125 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history. The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank is also providing $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

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