UN Mideast envoy voices concern over impacts of COVID-19 on Palestinians

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UNITED NATIONS, May 20 (Xinhua) -- UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov on Wednesday voiced concern over the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on Palestinians.

"As elsewhere around the world, the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on Palestinians have been immense," he told the Security Council in a briefing.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their jobs, small and medium-sized enterprises are unable to operate, children cannot attend school in person, and violence against women and children has increased. As always, the most vulnerable are at the greatest risk of suffering. Recent gains in Gaza on water, sanitation, electricity, and livelihoods are at extreme risk of being fully reversed, said Mladenov.

COVID-19 has damaged Gaza's economy across sectors: around 13,000 industrial workers have temporarily lost their jobs, virtually all restaurants and hotels have ceased operations, half of all employees in the information and communications technology sector may have also been laid off, he said.

The Palestinian people are experiencing the same shock and uncertainty as the rest of humanity. However, their government is unable to respond to the socio-economic effects with the same agency as an independent, sovereign state, he explained.

Palestinian Authority cannot avail itself of the conventional monetary and fiscal tools that sovereign countries ordinarily use in times of economic distress. It cannot influence interest rates, print money, devalue its currency, or access international capital markets to finance the deficit spending needed to compensate those who have lost jobs and to support businesses to stay afloat, said Mladenov.

The vulnerable fiscal position of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been further damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. PA revenues are down sharply due to restrictions on movement and business operations, and lower demand for goods. Given the additional spending required to respond to and recover from the pandemic, estimates are that the PA's fiscal deficit could exceed 2 billion U.S. dollars for this year.

Israel has announced a 233-million-dollar soft loan for a period of four months, against future Palestinian clearance revenues. It will provide a critical fiscal lifeline for the PA. However, unless combined with a long-term response and reform strategy, including a resolution of the outstanding fiscal issues, this lifeline only delays difficult fiscal decisions to the future, said Mladenov.

Working with its international partners, the PA must also adopt emergency budget measures to address the pandemic, along lines recently outlined by the World Bank, he said.

Mladenov reported positive Palestinian-Israeli cooperation in the fight against COVID-19.

Despite growing political tensions, Palestinian and Israeli authorities have continued their notable coordination around efforts to limit the spread of the virus and are taking careful steps to reopen their economies and lift virus-related restrictions, he said.

Relatively successful prevention efforts in the occupied Palestinian territory have thus far ensured that the limited capacity of the health system has not been overwhelmed. However, there remain considerable concerns regarding the ability of the Palestinian health sector to cope with a potential surge in cases, especially in Gaza, he said.

There are continuing shortages of critical supplies, including testing materials, personal protective equipment, ventilators and essential intensive care unit equipment, due to funding gaps and a shortage in global supply, he said.

In Gaza, the health system continues to face immense challenges despite the low number of positive COVID-19 cases. As of the end of April, 44 percent of essential medicines and 30 percent of essential medical supplies in the Gaza Strip had less than a month's stock remaining, he said. Enditem

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