WFP operational update: occupied Palestinian territories

Published on 16 August 2006

Despite the relative reduction in hostilities in Gaza over the past week, WFP food remains a vital "band aid" for oPt's stricken economy.

Introduction

Despite the relative reduction in hostilities in Gaza over the past week, WFP food remains a vital "band aid" for oPt's stricken economy.

Food security: update

The relative reduction in hostilities in Gaza over the past week, the partial opening of the Karni crossing and payment of some financial allowances to Palestinian National Authority (PNA) employees represent a slight easing of Gaza’s economic woes.

However after months of intense hostilities, closures and economic sanctions, the people remain poverty stricken, with their livelihoods considerably weakened and high dependency on foreign aid.

WFP food assistance is acting as a “band aid” to attempt to prevent a further decline of livelihoods and nutrition among the poorest.

Any improvement in the current humanitarian situation would only occur if Gaza’s economy were given a firm kick start.

However, rising criminality and a return to kidnapping illustrate the precariousness of the situation and this deters foreign investment and much needed job creation. The intense bombing in Gaza has crippled the infrastructure; there are very few plans to re-build.

Who are the most vulnerable?

Day workers, farmers, the chronically poor and vulnerable groups (disabled/disadvantaged) reliant on social institutions are some of the most affected groups receiving regular support from WFP. Only 30 percent of Gazans have a regular income.

Small shop owners and traders are a newly emerging vulnerable group. Having cushioned the impact of the crisis on poor families through their credit systems, they themselves have borne the brunt of the spreading economic crisis. Many are really struggling to maintain their businesses.

Shop owners interviewed spoke of rising numbers of customers requesting credit (70% in one shop, 90% in another). They fear that refusing credit will lead to loss of customers once the crisis has passed.

Economic crisis

While the cash allowances to Palestinian National Authority employees are helping to slow the deterioration of the situation by enabling some people to pay off some of their debts (putting cash into the economy), it is a very small income over a protracted period and there is a long way to go before the situation will start to stabilise.

The weakness of essential public services remains an additional financial burden on the poor increasing the cost of living amidst an environment of escalating poverty.

Household waste spills over litter bins in the main streets of Gaza and the limited municipal services seem incapable of keeping up with pressing demand.

Gaza’s streets – normally bustling with traffic – now lie quiet with only the occasional car or bicycle as household fuel supplies dwindle. Gas is getting into Gaza but the stations are empty, as few can afford it.

Markets

Markets are open and have a range of commodities (except fish) but there are very few customers. Fishermen have been unable to go out to sea since 28 July which means there is no fish in the market. Loss to the fishing sector is more than half a million dollars per month, affecting 35,000 people’s livelihoods and income.

How are families coping?

The poor are adopting various coping strategies: cutting household expenditure, choosing cheaper food, reducing food consumption due to rising costs as they have to cook day by day because of a shortage of power and cooking gas. Some poor families have to send their children to collect empty cartons and wood chips to obtain enough fuel to cook.

Power cuts

Power cuts at the hottest time of year continue; most Gaza residents have power for only 6-8 hours a day. Generators are increasingly difficult to obtain. Running a generator costs around US$15.5 per hour – an impossible cost for poor families.

The power cuts are resulting in the loss of perishable food stocks that should be kept refrigerated.

People who are unable to afford generators and unable to create emergency stocks are now forced to buy food daily. Many people freeze vegetables over the winter to cover the summer period but these have been lost due to the electricity cuts.

Water shortages

Water supply continues to be sporadic in Gaza and residents cannot be sure of reliable access to water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. On average there are six hours of water every two days.

Water quality is very poor and there is increasing concern about water-borne disease. WHO reports an increase in diarrhoea.

WFP response

WFP is responding to the situation by increasing the number of people it assists in Gaza from 160,000 to 220,000 food insecure non refugees (UNRWA covers the refugees).

While WFP used to support some categories of beneficiaries through food for work/training interventions, the worsening security makes such interventions impossible and all WFP beneficiaries in Gaza now receive food through emergency (free) distributions.

Gaza remains completely reliant on external food supply and commercial stocks (especially wheat flour and sugar) are low. Movement of staff into Gaza remains problematic - all crossing points for goods and personnel must remain open for humanitarian aid to avert a major crisis.

In the past month, WFP has transported some 4,000 tons of food into Gaza for its expanded caseload of 220,000 beneficiaries.

WFP now has one month of food stocks in Gaza (3,000 tons) to cover 220,000 people – which is around 50% of the non-refugee population and 16% of Gaza’s total population.