‘Can you imagine that when a child of mine asks me for one Shekel (USD 0.3), I can’t afford to give it to him? That’s why I remain hidden from my children from early in the morning until evening.’
Naser Al-Batran is a 41-year-old father of five children and a resident of the central Gaza Strip. He used to work for a local weaving factory but found himself jobless after the Israeli closure of Gaza’s travel and commercial crossings in June 2007.
‘Life has become miserable, extremely miserable,’ he said.
Malnutrition and Anemia on the Rise
The crippling economic blockade of the Gaza Strip has impacted the various aspects of public life in this coastal region. According to the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry, 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents suffer from anemia, including 44 percent of pregnant women.
Malnutrition among Palestinian children has also increased over the past 11 months, affecting more than 10 percent of Gaza’s children under the age of 18.
‘The inability of the majority of Palestinian households’ to purchase basic food items has increased the magnitude of this health problem.’
A recent malnutrition survey, conducted by the Ard Al-Insan health organization in Gaza City, revealed that around 10.4 percent of households in Gaza City and in the northern and southern Gaza Strip suffer from chronic malnutrition with many of them facing growth difficulties in terms of weight and length.
‘The inability of the majority of Palestinian households’ to purchase basic food items has increased the magnitude of this health problem,’ explained Dr. Adnan Abdel Aziz Al-Wahadi, the head of the Health Care unit of the Ard Al-Insan organization in Gaza City.
‘In comparison with previous times, the demand for health and nutritional care has increased over the past 11 months, as evidenced for example by a survey conducted in 2003 indicating that only 3.4 percent of households had malnutrition during that year,’ Al-Wahadi explained.
A large number of households in Gaza are currently unable to afford essential food items as the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip continues with additional restrictions on food and fuel being enforced last month by the Israeli government.
This can be seen vividly in public markets throughout the coastal region, where fish is considered the main source of nutrition for the Gazan population.
Mohammd Mohareb, a local fish monger at the Nusierat refugee camp market in the central Gaza Strip, complained of the residents’ inability to buy fish.
‘Prior to these circumstances, I would bring in 100 boxes of fish, but now I only bring in 20, and I still can’t sell all of the fish. Now, I lose much more than I earn,’ he said.
Nour Eldin Abu-Saqer, a fruit vendor, echoed the same complaint as he stood idle in the middle of the day behind his fruit stand in the local market of the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.
‘Over the past couple of months, people have become even less likely to buy fruit, bearing in mind that for the past 11 months we have been selling less fruit than we used to,’ Abu-Saqer complained.
‘We only sell fruit during the first week of each month when government employees obtain their salaries, but during the rest of the month, many of our goods perish as sales go down. The prices are beyond people’s purchase power, especially for those who are unemployed,’ he explained.
No Natural Resources
The World Food Programme states that 80 percent of households in the Gaza Strip depend on international food aid as the unemployment rate has reached more than 80 percent.
More than 95 percent of Gaza’s industrial sector, involving textiles, canneries, weaving factories and metal workshops has already stopped working, rendering 32,0000 local laborers jobless.
Last month, Israel further reduced shipments of diesel, cooking gas, and food into the Gaza Strip, thus aggravating the deteriorating living conditions to the extent that many motorists were forced to use cooking oil instead of diesel to keep their vehicles running.
In June 2007, Israel imposed a strict closure on the Gaza Strip borders, following the takeover of the region by Islamist Hamas’s during the same time period, amid factional infighting with the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
‘We are a society with no natural resources; the only resource we have is the human one, so unless there is adequate food and health, how are we supposed to develop a nation?’ wondered Al-Wahadi. For the time being, it seems this question will remain unanswered.