Gaza factories back to work making protective wear

Palestinians make protective overalls to shield people from the coronavirus. Factories in Gaza City are working at full capacity to meet the growing demand for safety equipment. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 25 April 2020

Gaza factories back to work making protective wear

  • Garment firms gain rare economic lifeline as coronavirus boosts demand for safety clothing

GAZA CITY: For the first time in years, sewing factories in the Gaza Strip are back to working at full capacity — producing masks, gloves and protective gowns, some of which are bound for Israel.

It is a rare economic lifeline in the coastal territory, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militant group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in the strip in 2007. The blockade, and three wars between Hamas and Israel, have devastated the local economy, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent.
But the sudden opportunity also shows how Gaza’s economy is at the mercy of those enforcing the blockade — and how depressed wages have become. Workers earn as little as $8 a day.
So far, Gaza appears to have been largely spared from the coronavirus pandemic, with only 17 cases detected, all within quarantine facilities set up for those returning from abroad. Many still fear an outbreak in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people and where the health care system has been battered by years of conflict. But for now, authorities are cautiously allowing most businesses to stay open.
Rizq Al-Madhoun, owner of the Bahaa garment company, said he has produced more than 1 million masks in the past three weeks, “all for the Israeli market.”
Gaza may not have the advanced machinery seen in other places, but he said residents’ sewing skills are unmatched. “Gaza workers are distinguished in handiwork and they are better than workers in China or Turkey,” he said.
Another factory, Unipal 2000, is able to employ 800 workers across two shifts to produce protective equipment around the clock.
Both factories import fabric and other materials from customers in Israel and then produce items like masks, gloves and surgical gowns. Unipal makes about 150,000 pieces a day, and demand is high as countries around the world grapple with shortages.
Asked about doing business with Israeli customers, both factory owners said they did not want to discuss politics and framed their work in terms of business and humanitarian needs.
“Despite the siege in Gaza, we export these masks and protective clothes to the whole world without exception,” Bashir Bawab, the owner of Unipal 2000, said. “We feel we are doing a humanitarian duty.”

FASTFACT

260 The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, has reported around 260 COVID-19 cases and two deaths.

In recent years, Tamer Emad, a skilled textile worker, was able to work one week per month at best. But over the past month, he has been on the Unipal factory floor every day, earning around $8 per shift.
“This has provided us with a good opportunity ahead of Ramadan,” he said.
Such wages are typical in the depressed Gazan economy, but would barely keep a family afloat. It costs around $250 a month to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
Omar Shaban, an economist who heads a local think tank, said the conditions created by the blockade allow for “exploitation,” but that low-wage jobs still provide income for many people.
Unipal 2000 first opened in an industrial zone along the frontier in 1998, when the peace process was in full swing. But like many other Gaza businesses, it was forced to shut down after the Hamas takeover and the blockade.
Israel began easing some restrictions after the 2014 Gaza war, and the factory reopened two years later. But by then most of its clients had found suppliers elsewhere, so it only operated intermittently.
Its fortunes could change again — especially if there is an outbreak.
Gisha, an Israeli group that advocates for easing the blockade on Gaza, appealed to Israeli leaders to do more to promote economic activity in the territory.
“The pandemic has created demand for these products,” it said. “But Israel must lift restrictions on trade entirely so that Gaza residents can work and so that Gaza’s faltering economy can brace itself as much as possible against the wider global crisis caused by the pandemic.”


Oil surges on hopes of new deal on output cuts

Updated 02 June 2020

Oil surges on hopes of new deal on output cuts

  • Brent price has doubled in five weeks
  • OPEC talks may be brought forward

DUBAI: Oil prices surged toward $40 a barrel on Monday as hopes rose for an early agreement to extend the big production cuts agreed by Saudi Arabia and Russia under the OPEC+ alliance.

Brent, the global benchmark, jumped by more 9 percent to nearly $39, continuing the surge that has doubled the price in five weeks — the best performance in its history. It recovered after record supply cuts agreed between the 23 countries of the OPEC+ partnership, and enforced cuts in US shale oil.

DME Oman crude, the regional benchmark in which a lot of Saudi Aramco exports are priced, rose above $40 a barrel for the first time since early March.

Market sentiment was buoyed by the possibility that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would agree with non-OPEC members to extend the cuts for a longer period than was agreed in April.

Oil analysts expect OPEC to fast track a “virtual” meeting to formally agree to maintaining cuts at the record 9.7 million barrels a day level. The meeting was scheduled for June 9, but bringing it forward would allow producers more time to set pricing levels.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

An official with one OPEC delegation told Arab News there was consensus among the 23 OPEC+ members for the new date, which could be as early as June 4. The meeting will also consider how long the current level of cuts would be maintained. Some OPEC members want it to run to the end of the year, other producers would prefer a two-month extension.

Omar Najia, global head of derivatives with trader BB Energy, told a forum run by Gulf Intelligence consultancy: “I’d be amazed if OPEC did not extend the higher level of cuts. As long as Saudi Arabia and Russia continue saying nice things to each other I’d expect the rally to continue.”

A Moscow source close to the oil industry said energy officials there had come to the conclusion that “the deal is working” and it was important to keep prices at an “acceptable” level.

Sentiment was also affected by a comparatively high level of compliance with the new cuts, running at about 75 percent among OPEC+ members, with only Iraq and Nigeria noticeable under-compliers.

Robin Mills, chief executive of Qamar Energy, said: “That’s where I’d expect it to be after two months in such a fluid situation. It will be even better in June.”