According to a report published today by UNRWA, the total population of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) grew to an estimated 3,767,126 persons at the end of 2007, up 871,443 persons or 30 per cent relative to the end of 1997. This implies an average annual growth rate of 3.0 per cent during the decade between the two censuses. The study, based on the results of the 2007 Palestinian census conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, found higher population growth rates among refugees.
The number of registered refugees in the oPt rose by more than 36 per cent during the 1997 to 2007 period, to reach 1,551,145 persons. Growth in Gaza was higher still; the population rose by an annual average of 4.5 per cent during the decade, with the number of registered refugees increasing by almost 300,000 to reach 951,709 at the end of 2007. This compares to an average annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent for registered refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
By the end of 2007, registered refugees accounted for 42.6 per cent of the oPt population – 27.3 per cent of the West Bank population and 67.9 per cent of the population of Gaza – with 60 per cent of all oPt refugees residing in Gaza.
Population growth in the oPt – at about 3 per cent per year – was significantly higher relative to the wider Arab world and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Population density in the oPt was also significantly higher than in neighbouring countries. At 625 persons per square kilometre, overall population density was more than 50 per cent higher than Lebanon, twice that of Israel and 10 times greater than in Jordan. Density in Gaza – 3,881 persons per square kilometre – remained among the highest in the world and rose by about 40 per cent between 1997 and 2007.
Rates of population growth were highest among youth and the working age population (15-64 years of age), posing major challenges for social and economic development in the oPt, particularly in a context of prolonged economic crisis. Based on labour force data for 2008, an average of 133,000 new jobs will need to be created in the oPt each year through 2015 to reduce the unemployment rate to the average for the MENA region. This region has had the highest rates of unemployment for any region in the world for most of the past decade. In Gaza, more than 76,000 jobs will be required each year, alongside 67,000 in the West Bank. To put the scale of the challenge into perspective, during 2008 the number of employed persons in Gaza in 2008 decreased by 27,000.
Census data further indicates that the coming ten years will see an increasing proportion of elderly people in the oPt. While the 65+ population segment grew well below average between 1997 and 2007, its replacement segment grew at a faster than average rate.
For further details, see the West Bank and Gaza Strip Population Census (PDF)