WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin recently travelled to Palestine where she met families struggling to make ends meet with high food prices and low wages. WFP is helping them meet their food needs, but what these families really want are opportunities to provide for themselves.
JERUSALEM--Today I visited some of WFP’s programmes in Palestine. A third of households in Palestine are food insecure. WFP supports these communities by providing electronic food vouchers for redemption in local stores, through school meals and through food distributions to Bedouin and herder communities.
The day started early as we took the Dead Sea highway from Jerusalem. The tree line soon gave way to a vast, rocky, beige desert as the modern highway snaked through the hills. We exited the paved highway and took the detour off road, essentially the only way to reach the Bedouins. We pushed our UN all-road vehicles to the limit as we crossed a dry riverbed and then climbed a hill to reach a Bedouin village.
Traveling the rugged terrain, I soon realized the challenging conditions that these families are confronted with on a daily basis. The village is hemmed in on one side by a highway, and on the other side by Jewish settlement communities, leaving little land left for their traditional grazing, raising animals and producing milk and wool products.
I met with a group of Bedouin women. They spoke of a loss of hope, of fear and angst about being dependent on assistance. They urgently want to be free to continue with their traditional way of life. Instead, they worry about their children and the schoolhouse being torn down and their dwindling head of sheep and goats.
WFP provides food to the communities to help them meet their household food security needs. The women I met enjoy the flour, oil and sugar we give them. They also expressed their honest hope that we would diversify the food basket by adding rice and beans. More than food hand-outs, the women pleaded for opportunities that will allow them to feed themselves and their family.
I then visited a voucher shop that accepts WFP’s electronic voucher cards in exchange for locally produced food. At the store I met a single mom, Basma, who spoke to me about how the voucher has allowed her to buy food with dignity. Using her "Sahtein card" she is able to purchase, lebneh, a traditional yogurt-based soft spread, milk, eggs, and olive oil. Eighty per cent of the products in the food basket are Palestinian made helping boost the local economy, in fact over the last three years, WFP has injected $100,000 million into the economy through the voucher program.
The next stop was the only Palestinian-owned company on the Dead Sea. The salt production company is family owned and operated. WFP purchases 30 percent of its salt from this factory helping support a local business while generating employment for Palestinians. WFP’s support to the company catalyzed the opportunity for them to attain financing. The financing allowed the company to expand and improve production for international markets. Now the company is launching an international market program. It’s a story of WFP’s role in supporting sustainable economic growth and food security. Demonstrating that with some good planning and true partnerships, people can help themselves.
High food prices and low wages mean that 1.6 million Palestinians don’t know where their next meal is coming from, but the solution is not just about increasing the rations, it requires a different kind of peace, after all food security IS security. Food security is vital to ensuring peace across the region.