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Gravely under-funded, UN to feed more Palestinians

Though gravely under-funded, UN agency is set to feed 120,000 more Palestinians

Facing “an escalating humanitarian crisis” in the occupied Palestinian territory due to the non-payment of 150,000 government employees and more frequent Israeli crossing closures, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will increase the number of non-refugees it feeds by 25 percent, from 480,000 to 600,000.

“We are seeing increasing numbers of impoverished people whose means of survival are being pushed to the limit. Many families are being forced to reduce their number of meals to just one a day,” WFP Country Director Arnold Vercken warned, noting that the Agency’s $103 million appeal for its two-year operation has so far been only 29 per cent funded since it began last September.

“We are in a race against time to reach the most vulnerable with food aid and avoid an escalation of this crisis. Urgent assistance now can really make a difference,” he added, stressing that WFP has no money beyond July to fund its current operation.

The announcement comes just two days after the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) revised their appeal for aid to Palestinians upwards by 80 per cent from $215 million to $385 million to counter the crisis facing the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the Hamas victory in the January election.

Israel has stopped the transfer of Palestinian value added taxes (VAT) and customs taxes it is obligated to pass over, which comprise around 50 per cent of the PA budget. Other countries have also suspended contributions to the PA. The 150,000 employees on its payroll support 1 million people, or more than 25 per cent of the population.

According to a recent study by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food insecurity – the measure of physical and economic access to sufficient food – has grown by 14 per cent since last year, meaning nearly 2 million Palestinians, 51 per cent of the population, cannot meet their daily food needs without assistance.

“Many people are now living on only bread and the cheapest vegetables, usually those left unsold at the end of the day. We are also very concerned about the growing numbers of people, often children, rummaging through garbage cans,” Mr. Vercken said.

“Timely and targeted food assistance is a small contribution to support the population at this difficult time; nevertheless it represents an important reassurance for mothers who can go to sleep in the knowledge that their children will be fed tomorrow.”

WFP provides food aid for non-refugee Palestinians, who are disproportionately affected by the current crisis due to their reliance on dwindling government resources. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is the main provider of services to over 4.3 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

Mr. Vercken recognized Israel’s need for security but said it was essential that all major crossing points into the Gaza Strip remain open for humanitarian aid.

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