Al-Dardari to Asharq Al-Awsat: Gaza Regressed 21 Years in Human Development

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli raid on a house in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli raid on a house in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on Thursday. (Reuters)

Al-Dardari to Asharq Al-Awsat: Gaza Regressed 21 Years in Human Development

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli raid on a house in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli raid on a house in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on Thursday. (Reuters)

Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Regional Director for Arab States, Abdullah Al-Dardari, said that numbers published in the media “cannot capture the scale of the catastrophe that the Gaza Strip is witnessing.”
Al-Dardari pointed to the continuation of the Gaza war, the worsening humanitarian crisis, the lack of life requirements, such as energy and clean water, and the interruption of education, in addition to the significant decline in the levels of health service after a number of hospitals went out of service.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Amman, Al-Dardari echoed the statements of European Union foreign policy official Josep Borrell, who said that the situation in Gaza was “an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”
“We have never seen this scale of destruction in such a short period of time,” he remarked, adding: “The economic effects of the war on Gaza will remain for a long period of time.”
Al-Dardari noted that more than 60 percent of Gaza’s homes were destroyed so far - homes that have been partially or completely wiped out.
“This damage exceeds the percentage of destruction in any war, whether a civil war, an internal conflict, or a conflict between countries since World War II in this short period,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Al-Dardari revealed that the Gaza Strip has gone back about 21 years in human development, and lost $50 billion worth of investments in health, education, infrastructure, sanitation, and energy.
“The war destroyed most of the UNDP projects in Gaza,” he said, recalling the Saif al-Quds confrontations that broke out in May 2021, during which 1,700 homes were destroyed in Gaza, of which only 200 were rebuilt.
“These 200 homes were destroyed during the war taking place today,” he underlined, referring to the slow pace of reconstruction programs in the unstable areas.
The UN official estimated the losses of the entire Palestinian economy at about 8 percent of the Palestinian GDP, equivalent to $1.7 billion, out of the Palestinian national product, which amounted to $20 billion.
However, he said: “The loss is not in these figures, but rather in the massive decline in human resources development.”
“The wheel of development will be stalled... especially in light of the talk about the complete cessation of about 90 percent of economic activities in Gaza,” he explained.
The UN official talked about the initial repercussions of the war on the West Bank, pointing to huge economic losses.
“As you know, Palestinian farmers were unable to harvest olives in season, nor to collect their citrus production, as a result of the settlers’ attacks and the bad security situatio,” he stated.
Although Gaza constitutes only 20 percent of the Palestinian GDP, the decline of the Palestinian economy by 8 percent in two months is a significant matter, according to Al-Dardari.
He explained: “Expectations indicate that if the war continues for three months... the impact on the gross domestic product will reach 2.5 percent, one billion dollars for the Palestinian economy as a whole.”
The Human Development Index includes three basic components: The first is the per capita share of national product, the second is the number of years of education, and the third is life expectancy at birth. These components form indicators of health, education, and the economy. In Gaza, the economy suffered a major shock, health was clearly destroyed, as well as education.
In this context, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations confirmed that Gaza has now almost returned to what was before 2002. He said: “Everything that has been built in Palestinian human development so far has been erased. We must start from that point in 2002, and we do not know how many years it will take us to reach that point.”
Al-Dardari expected poverty rates in Palestine to rise from 1.8 million Palestinians to 2.3 million, i.e. an increase of about 500,000 people.
“This is only in two months... poverty does not usually increase to such large proportions during very short periods,” he remarked.
He indicated that the effects of the war on Gaza exceed a year and a half of the repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis in terms of poverty and unemployment, as the number of unemployed people has increased by about 300,000 people.
According to Al-Dardari, the scale of the economic, developmental and humanitarian catastrophe was never seen in such a short period of time. He said that two million people were currently without homes, hospitals and schools.
“Rebuilding all of that, housing people, and restoring some health and educational services, drinking water and sanitation require time and costs,” the UN official underlined, adding: “I can describe reality as a hotbed of humanitarian explosion, meaning the explosion of all humanitarian problems at the same time.”
Al-Dardari warned that if the war continued for an additional three months, losses incurred by neighboring countries, including Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, would reach 4.5 percent, or about $19 billion.
“This number is large even though these countries are not involved in the war. In Lebanon the situation may be partially different, but countries other than Lebanon are affected by the repercussions of the Gaza war, and to compensate for these losses you will need additional investments and a long time. Estimates indicate that the three countries will lose two to three years in human development,” he affirmed.
Regarding the situation in Lebanon, the UN official noted that a special report will soon be issued, saying that up to this moment, 40,000 olive trees have been burned in southern Lebanon due to phosphorus bombs.
“This constitutes income for thousands of families,” he emphasized.

Al-Dardari concluded that if war continues at the same pace of violence and destruction, the number of poor people will rise to more than half a million in these three countries.
“This war has so far had tangible regional effects, but those can be contained. If the war continues, the consequences will be great and the international community will bear the responsibility of compensating for these losses,” the UN official said.
He added: “We demand an end to the war. There is an opportunity if the war stops now, because its economic effects in the region, although tangible, are still containable. The expansion of time will double these effects.”




Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.