Palestine has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. The country has endured decades of political and violent conflict with Israel. Palestinians must also battle increasing unemployment as well as a lack of resources. These factors are particularly detrimental for Palestinians with disabilities. Disability in Palestine is an ongoing issue and poverty exacerbates it further.
The Challenge of Disability
More than 15% of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability. These range from impairment in vision, hearing and mobility to trouble with memory and communication. However, developing countries are more vulnerable to disabilities due to their limited access to health care, education, water, sanitation and electricity.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people worldwide live with disability or impairment. About 130,000 of these individuals live in Palestine. Of the 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with the UNRWA within Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, 795,000 of them have a disability. In Occupied Palestine, 31.2% of elderly Palestinians have one or more kinds of disability. Additionally, more males suffer from disabilities than females and about 20% of individuals with a disability in Palestine are younger than 18 years old.
Much of the disability in Palestine is a result of limited resources and an increase in violence. Insufficient prenatal and postnatal care, malnutrition and inadequate medical services all contribute to prolonged disability and impairment. This lack of proper and adequate services is a result of the Israeli blockade and occupation, which prevents Palestinians from accessing goods and services.
The increase in violence also has a direct effect on the number of disabled individuals. In particular, Palestine noted waves of violence and aggression in 2009, 2012 and 2014. As a result, large numbers of Palestinians have faced serious injuries. Out of the 11,231 Palestinians affected by these outbursts of violence, 10% experienced injuries that resulted in life-long disabilities.
The Effects of Disability
Disability can dramatically affect the livelihoods of afflicted individuals. The education and health care systems are largely operated by UNRWA and USAID-related programs through humanitarian assistance and funds. UNRWA has developed Disability Inclusion Programs, but very few of these initiatives focus on individuals with disabilities or increasing access to necessary services. In 2011, statistics showed that 42.2% of Palestinians with disabilities in Gaza and 35.5% in the West Bank had never enrolled in school. Further, 27.1% of Palestinians with disabilities dropped out of school and 56.3% struggled with illiteracy.
Acquiring access to health care and rehabilitation is very difficult, especially in Gaza, due to restricted movement and blockades. The same is true for access to medicine, supplies and staffing. Having a disability, without the proper resources to acquire treatment, education or income, can greatly increase the risk of poverty for an individual and their family. If an individual with a disability is already below the poverty line, their chances of escaping poverty are greatly reduced.
Having a disability in Palestine also hinders employment. The poverty rate in Palestine is 25% and unemployment reached about 29% across the board. More than 90% of individuals with disabilities in Gaza do not engage in employment. This is mostly because of the lack of accessible infrastructure, transport, toilet and assistive devices and services in these workplaces. The presence of disability, especially an insufficiently treated disability, prevents individuals from completing education and finding employment, which lends itself to poverty.
Disability is a challenge in every country. Palestine, in particular, is not unfamiliar with the hurdles that individuals with disabilities face. From the lack of adequate health care services to the lack of education and employment accessibility, individuals with disabilities in Palestine are continuously vulnerable. Employers, educators, governmental organizations and NGOs should work together to create a more inclusive environment. The nation needs to see improvements in infrastructure and the provision of more resources all while increasing accessibility for Palestinians with disabilities.
– Nada Abuasi