Today, a rapidly growing population of 4.7 million Palestine refugees is assisted by UNRWA in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As the life expectancy of this population increases, its demography has changed. Almost 40 per cent of the refugees are under 18 years of age, and there is a growing elderly population. These developments place an economic burden on families that is aggravated by the problems of generalized poverty and unemployment. This is particularly acute in the Gaza Strip, where almost 90 per cent of refugees are either younger than 15, or older than 65 years.
The indicators of achievement for refugees in relation to the Millenium Development Goals for health closely resemble those of their host countries. However, in the Gaza Strip, infant and maternal mortality is comparatively higher, and general life expectancy lower than in the West Bank. While communicable diseases, so prevalent in the early years of UNRWA’s activities, are now under control, new diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity are emerging as a significant threat to the ability of refugees to live long and healthy lives.