Jam-Packed Gaza Sees Continued Population Growth as Hamas Does Nothing to Change the Trend - Expert
In 2021, the population of the Gaza Strip reached 2.3 million people, amid a fast growth rate, with a local expert saying a decrease in the dynamics is not expected, not only because of the local culture but also due to a religion that encourages reproduction.
The Gaza Strip is home to more than two million people despite measuring only 365 square kilometres, smaller than many cities; it has steadily emerged as one of the world's most densely populated areas.
In 1998, the population of the Strip stood at slightly more than a million people but a decade later it already numbered almost 1.5 million. Growth was also registered in subsequent years and in 2021 official statistics revealed the area had 2.1 million residents.
Mohammed Helles, a Gaza-based expert on demography and social processes, says that the increase in numbers has been linked to the high fertility of Palestinian women.
According to official statistics, the fertility of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip is one of the highest in the world. In the 90s women produced 7 children on average. In 2014, that number dropped to 4.4 and it has recently fallen to 3.6.
Although there has been a decrease in the Strip's Total Fertility Rate, it is still far higher than that of most countries outside Africa, and Helles says it has to do with the culture of the Palestinians, which encourages large families.
"Palestinians are not supportive of a small-family concept. In the Palestinian culture, the moment the woman gets married, she is expected to give birth to many kids, even if the couple cannot provide them with decent living conditions."
For many Palestinian families, this is definitely the case. Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, unemployment in the Strip stood at more than 45 percent.
Poverty rates have also been high, and many Gazans have been forced to rely on the assistance of rich international donors for food, clothes, medicine and basic equipment.
The eruption of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the dire economic conditions but the rates of fertility have not been hampered, and Helles says it is not only about the culture of encouragement, it is also about religion.
It is believed that the Prophet Mohammed encouraged Muslims to marry "fertile women" and urged them to bring up "great numbers" of children.
In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, an Islamic movement that adheres to Sharia law, the commands of the prophet are strictly followed, but Helles warns this policy will have dire repercussions for the population.
"Eventually, it will negatively affect all aspects of life in Gaza. We will have a more acute economic crisis and we will see the rates of poverty and unemployment continuing to climb."
Policy Not Likely to Change
The Hamas authorities do not provide any social services to the population, something that often puts a strain on their large families. The Islamic group doesn't have the necessary funds to help all those who seek help, and this means that the only way to handle the rising challenge is by introducing a change in policy.
But the Gaza-based expert says it is highly unlikely Hamas will take such a step.
"The government doesn't do anything to stop Gazan families from bringing up many children amid these unstable conditions. The reason being is that the government will not go against the religious establishment and the only way the situation can change is through Gazans taking matters into their own hands."
How likely for that to happen? Helles is not that optimistic. "I doubt anything will change. People don't seem to alter their habits."