ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A new United Nations assessment says the Gaza Strip could be uninhabitable in five years if the situation there doesn't improve. NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem reports the U.N. says things keep getting worse in Gaza.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The assertion that Gaza could be unlivable by 2020 isn't brand new. A different U.N. report three years ago said health and security are among many social factors jeopardized by increasingly crowded conditions in Gaza. Mahmoud Elkhafif coordinates assistance to the Palestinians for the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development that produced this new report. He says Gaza is going backwards. He calls it de-development.
MAHMOUD ELKHAFIF: What we are seeing is, actually, since 2007, Gaza is going through a major process of de-development or basically reversing development.
HARRIS: With high unemployment for a long time, he says, people lose their skills. With slow reconstruction after wars and little access to outside markets, the capacity to produce things or even purify water in Gaza erodes. But what does the report mean by uninhabitable, I asked Elkhafif. More than a million-and-a-half people live in Gaza, after all.
ELKHAFIF: People will continue. I mean, if they are forced to live in - I mean, they will live - no doubt about that. But when we've seen a report that 95 percent of the water in Gaza - I mean, it's not drinkable. Is this a livable condition?
HARRIS: Israel puts the blame for poor economic conditions in Gaza squarely on Hamas, the Islamist organization that has de facto ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and which fought Israel in three wars since then. Emmanuel Nahshon is with Israel's Foreign Ministry.
EMMANUEL NAHSHON: We understand that the more prosperous the Palestinians are, the better it is for them and the better it is for us. And it is very much in their hands to take a decision with regard to that.
HARRIS: He says the only way for real change to the Palestinian situation is to negotiate with Israel. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.