Around 46 per cent of Gaza and West Bank households are ‘food insecure’ or in danger of becoming so, according to a UN report on the impact of conflict and the global boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
The unpublished draft report, the first of its kind since the boycott was imposed when the Hamas government took office last March, says bluntly that the problem ‘is primarily a function of restricted economic access to food resulting from ongoing political conditions’.
The report, jointly produced by the UN’s World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, paints a bleak picture of the impact on food consumption and expenditure throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.
It says that the situation is ‘more grim’ in Gaza where four out of five families have reduced their spending – including on food – in the first quarter of last year alone.
The report acknowledges that ‘traditionally strong ties’ among Palestinian families tend to reduce the possibility of ‘acute household hunger’. But it warns that against a background of decreasing food security since the beginning of the Intifada in 2000 and the loss of PA salaries because of the boycott there are now ‘growing concerns about the sustainability of Palestinians’ resilience’.
The report is the latest of a series detailing deepening Palestinian poverty as a result of both closures blocking exports from Gaza and the international and Israeli boycott of the PA. Its timing is especially sensitive; coming to light after both Israel and the US indicated that they will maintain the boycott after the planned Fateh-Hamas coalition cabinet takes office unless it clearly commits itself to recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and adherence to previous agreements with Israel.
The UN report says that 34 per cent of households – with income below $1.68 per day and/or showing decreasing food expenditures – are ‘food insecure’. The WFP officially defines ‘food security’ as ‘the ability of a household to produce and/or access at all times the minimum food needed for a healthy and active life’. It goes on to say that 12 per cent of households are ‘vulnerable’ to food insecurity.
The report acknowledges that the findings are broadly similar to those – albeit estimated on a different basis – at the peak of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2003. However, it points out that the number of Palestinians suffering, including children, is much higher because of rapid population growth.
While recognizing that ‘significant per capita humanitarian aid’ is helping to contain the problem, the report points out that some action taken by families to continue to feed themselves – including the sale of land, jewellery and other assets’ – will have an ‘irreversible impact on livelihoods’.
It also points out that limitations to PA budget support, the private sector and job programs because of the boycott are likely to exacerbate Palestinians’ dependency on humanitarian assistance and postpone sustainable improvement.’
Pointing out that Palestinian families have been caught between rises in food prices – partly because of interrupted supplies through closures – and rapidly falling incomes, it details changes to diet by many to ensure enough to eat. These include reductions in consumption of fruits, sweets, olive oil, and – normally a staple in Gaza – fish.
The report also indicates that for other families – including ‘new poor’ suffering from loss of PA incomes – there has been a ‘decrease in the quality of and/or quantity of food consumed.’
The UN report comes against a background in which a 2004 survey of Palestinian households showed a ‘slow but steady’ growth in actual malnutrition – as measured by reduced growth rates, vitamin deficiencies, anemia and other indicators – among a minority of the population. The 2004 survey found ‘stunting’ rates of abnormal height-to-body ratio at just fewer than 10 per cent.