KEREM SHALOM - Pallets of fortified date bars have left Gaza today, crossing Kerem Shalom to be transferred to the West Bank by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). This is the first batch of a total of 140 tons of locally-produced date bars (or 19 truckloads) that will be used in WFP's school feeding distributions in the West Bank.
"This transfer from Gaza to the West Bank is the first of its kind since the inception of the blockade in 2007 and hopefully more will follow in order to support children learning and school assistance and concomitantly help boost the private sector and support a productive economy in Gaza", says Pablo Recalde, WFP Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory.
WFP was previously purchasing all date bar requirements for school feeding in Egypt or in Turkey until a factory was identified in the Gaza Strip. The factory has the capacity to supply the needed quantities at a competitive price and meeting WFP quality standards. These date bars are already used in the Gaza Strip school feeding programme and will now be used in the West Bank as well, where WFP assists 75,000 school children in 292 schools in the most food insecure areas, notably in Israeli-controlled Area C, Seam Zone and Bedouin communities.
The humanitarian transfer of date bars from Gaza to the West Bank follows more than 6 months of negotiation between WFP and the Israeli authorities, with strong support of the office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and of the international community.
In the occupied Palestinian territory, WFP prioritizes the local purchase of food items used in its humanitarian and development projects in order to support the local economy. The WFP "date bar project" has already created 60 new jobs at the biscuit factory in Gaza; subcontractors of the factory are also benefiting from this transfer. In 2012, WFP expects to inject more than USD 2 million in the Gaza economy through the date bar project alone.
The blockade of the Gaza Strip continues to seriously hamper access and movement of goods, services and people, affecting Palestinians' access to local and international markets. Food insecurity affects almost half of the population, caused by the high levels of unemployment, a weak private sector and a lack of purchasing power preventing people from covering their basic needs.