From next month, WFP will increase the number of people it feeds in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) by 25 percent from 480,000 to 600,000 non-refugees, in response to an escalating humanitarian crisis.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of impoverished people whose means of survival are being pushed to the limit. Many families are being forced to reduce their number of meals to just one a day,” warned Arnold Vercken, WFP Country Director in the oPt.
Unable to meet daily needs
Many poor families can no longer afford meat, fish, dairy products or olive oil.
Arnold Vercken, WFP Country Director, oPt
According to a recent WFP/FAO study, food insecurity – WFP’s measure of physical and economic access to sufficient food - in the oPt has grown by 14 percent since last year. That means that nearly two million Palestinians, 51 percent of the population, are unable to meet their daily food needs without assistance.
“Many people are now living on only bread and the cheapest vegetables, usually those left unsold at the end of the day. We are also very concerned about the growing numbers of people, often children, rummaging through garbage cans,” Vercken said.
WFP believes a serious crisis is unfolding in the oPt, resulting from the non-payment of 150,000 government employees, affecting one million people directly, and more frequent closures imposed by Israel on grounds of increasing security threats.
In Gaza the situation is becoming critical, owing to its economic isolation, exacerbated by the outbreak of avian influenza, which has removed poultry (the cheapest source of animal protein) from the Gaza diet.
“The situation is dragging the exhausted population into deeper poverty and debt. Loss of earnings and rising unemployment coupled with increased market prices are crippling the poorest sector of society, leading to mounting despair. Many poor families can no longer afford meat, fish, dairy products or olive oil,” Vercken said.
“They also have no income to buy gas for cooking, therefore must rely on cold food. Timely and targeted food assistance is a small contribution to support the population at this difficult time; nevertheless it represents an important reassurance for mothers who can go to sleep in the knowledge that their children will be fed tomorrow,” he added.
WFP provides food aid for non-refugee Palestinians, who are disproportionately affected by the current crisis due to their reliance on dwindling government resources.
One major factor increasing the poverty levels in Gaza is the limited access of Gazan produce to markets in Israel.
Vercken is extremely concerned about the already chronically poor non-refugee population.
These people – WFP’s social hardship cases – would normally receive regular financial support from the Ministry of Social Affairs who assist the poorest households physically unable to work due to age or disability.
But as a result of the cut in PNA payments, this group hasn not received monthly cash allowances since January 2006.
Race against time
“It is the right of every person – adult or child - to have access to a balanced diet with sufficient micronutrients to allow them to grow properly. In Gaza we are seeing more people, especially children, begging on the streets. We are in a race against time to reach the most vulnerable with food aid and avoid an escalation of this crisis. Urgent assistance now can really make a difference,” Vercken said.
“We recognise the need for security, but it is essential that all major crossing points to Gaza remain open for humanitarian aid”, stressed Vercken.
Pledges and contributions have come in from around the world but they are still insufficient to cover the costs of US$103 million for WFP’s two-year operation, which has so far been only 29 percent funded since it began last September.
The funding shortfall has become a huge constraint on WFP’s work in the occupied Palestinian territory. The humanitarian agency has no money beyond July to fund its current operation.