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Palestinians hit by higher food prices and falling incomes, UN report says

Palestinians hit by higher food prices and falling incomes, UN report says

Nearly 40 per cent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank do not have access to sufficient food, a rise of four per cent from 2006, according to a joint report issued by three United Nations agencies.

The report says that the main causes of food insecurity in the occupied Palestinian territories are “rooted in the military and administrative measures imposed by the Israeli occupation – closure regime, permits, destruction of assets – as well as settlement expansion and derived infrastructure multiplication – access to land and water and the construction of bypass roads.”

“The agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip is close to collapse, as no exports are allowed, and there is a total unavailability of fertilizer, pesticides and other crucial inputs,” according to the report, released yesterday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The UN agencies also report that soaring food prices, falling incomes and growing unemployment are all jeopardizing the livelihoods of Palestinians, leading to heavy debt and changes in family eating habits.

“Palestinians are eating less. Many parents reduce their intake to allow for their children to eat. Half the surveyed population have decreased their spending on food, 89 per cent reduced the quality of food they buy while 75 per cent reduced the quantity since January 2008 and almost all people have reduced their consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables and animal protein to save money. Very few Palestinians now eat fresh [red] meat.”

More than a third of breadwinners in the Gaza Strip are unemployed, while 27 per cent are without work in the West Bank, the report notes.

“The agriculture sector urgently needs to be strengthened to increase local food productions and create vital income and employment opportunities for the struggling population,” said Luigi Damiani, the FAO’s Senior Project Coordinator in Jerusalem.

Rising fuel and commodity prices are also making it more difficult to deliver aid.

“It is becoming extraordinarily difficult to cover the growing needs of the Palestinian people,” said Christine van Niewenhuyse, WFP Representative in the occupied Palestinian territories, adding that donor contributions have declined recently. “As more people are pushed into hunger and food insecurity, we fear people’s health and welfare could sharply deteriorate.”

The report notes that in the past year the price of wheat flour has risen by 73 per cent in the West Bank and 68 per cent in the Gaza Strip, while a third of Palestinians have seen a fall in their income, with the poor being hit by a 40 per cent drop.

Farmers in the Gaza Strip have faced three major shocks in recent months, the report says: the complete closure of the Strip by Israel, a late frost and an ongoing drought.

The report paints a picture of an increasingly dependent population. Some 59 per cent of households now rely on credit to buy food, even as the availability of informal credit is drying up. In addition, 76 per cent of households in Gaza have received some type of cash or in-kind aid in the past three months, with higher levels of coverage for refugees, while 23 per cent of households have been assisted in the West Bank.

“The economic downturn results in a much greater need for food assistance, while the severe closure regime makes it harder for us to deliver our services,” Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of URNWA, said. “Palestine refugees are facing triple threats – higher prices, greater aid dependency and more restrictions.”

The report concludes that “there is little scope for action other than that of a humanitarian-emergency nature to solve food insecurity, until the political dimension is resolved.”