Half of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza malnourished
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
22 February 2007
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
The unpublished draft report, the first of its kind since the boycott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 since
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 Fatah
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 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 but points out that the number of
Palestinians suffering, including children, are much higher because of
rapid population growth.
While recognising 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 programmes 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, vitamin deficiencies,
anaemia and other indicators - among a minority of the population. The
2004 survey found "stunting" rates of abnormal height-to-body ratio at
just under 10 per cent.
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