The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published a very important study a few days ago titled “Palestine 2030 Demographic Change: Opportunities for Development”.This study – which I hope anyone concerned with policy-making, development or authority in Palestine will read – shows the current demographic shifts in Palestine and the predictions for what the population will be like in 2030 and 2050.
The study predicts that the population in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, will rise from 4.7 million in 2015 to 6.9 million in 2030, and then 9.5 million or more in 2050. The surprise is that the population in the Gaza Strip is predicted to be higher in 2050 than in the West Bank: 4.8 million in Gaza compared to 4.7 million in the West Bank.
If we assume that the growth rate of the Palestinian population in the territories occupied in 1948 will be the same or slightly lower, then the number of Palestinians in historical Palestine in 2030 will be no less than 9 million. This is significant in the eyes of the Israelis, even as they work night and day to eliminate the idea of a Palestinian state, as there will be no alternative, no matter what they do, other than bring about a single democratic state for everyone between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
Quantity alone is not enough, as the quality of the economy, development and employment for the available manpower are all important factors. The study suggests that the development will not proceed until the occupation and settlements are removed and true independence and sovereignty are achieved.
The population growth determines the Palestinians’ needs for development in three indispensable areas: health, education and finding job opportunities for the young workforce. This means that the bulk of the development should focus on health and education projects, as well as creating jobs.
Perhaps one of the study’s most important indicators is its suggestion that the workforce will grow faster than the population, especially due to the rise in the percentage of educated women who will become available for work. This growth in the workforce, which will reduce the level of dependency, is something that every country in the world hopes for and is a result of the youthfulness of Palestinian society. This means that the percentage of people capable of production will grow and will ultimately be higher than the number of people dependent on them.
Such a human treasure and mine may act as a tremendous push for economic and human development. It may, however, also turn into a catastrophe if policies guaranteeing the reduction of the unemployment rate and the creation of job opportunities for the educated youth in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip are not put into place immediately.
This means changing all of the policies and budgets based on encouraging consumption and non-productive sectors such as construction, consumer services and government agencies, and instead promoting sectors that enhance steadfastness and create productive employment opportunities that are capable of expansion for the upcoming generations.
In 2030, we will have 400,000 university students and I cannot imagine that the universities will be able to absorb them all or that their families will be able to pay their education expenses without the adoption of the “National Fund for Higher Education Law”, which has been awaiting implementation for a decade.
The number of school students will reach two million. Just imagine the number of schools they will need, bearing in mind that we will also require 32,000 additional teachers, including 23,000 in the Gaza Strip alone.
According to the study, we have 767 primary healthcare centres at the moment, and we will need 1,114 centres in 2030; that’s an additional 350 centres. This is what some officials, who do not care about the importance of preserving and developing the existing health centres, need to acknowledge and understand.
We cannot meet the educational and health needs, or even maintain their current level, without effective cooperation between the government and civil society institutions.
The most dangerous indicators in the study are the growing poverty levels in Jerusalem due to Israeli restrictions and the lack of policies focusing on support for the steadfast Jerusalemites and advancing their means of life.
In short, the study suggests four main points:
First, Israel has and will continue to fail in eliminating the Palestinian existence in Palestine.
Second, true development is impossible without breaking the political obstacles caused by Israel. Hence, the task of fighting to eliminate the occupation and racial persecution is a strategic element in order to achieve development.
Third, public policies must be changed quickly to focus on supporting health and education as well as creating job opportunities.
Fourth, Palestine has a promising goldmine of human power, but this mine could turn into a disaster if we do not focus immediately on solving the unemployment problem suffered by the educated youth in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.