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Palestinians Hit By Food Prices & Falling Incomes

Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Palestinians hit by higher food prices and falling incomes

Three United Nations agencies have warned of a decline in Palestinian living standards as a new report shows that high food prices and falling incomes are forcing Palestinian families to manage with less and lower quality food.

The main driver of Palestinian food insecurity is of a political nature, as key elements in vulnerability are rooted in the military and administrative measures imposed by the Israeli occupation - closure regime, permits, destruction of assets - as well as the settlement expansion and derived infrastructure multiplication - access to land and water and the construction of bypass roads.

Global food prices, combined with a contracting economy and the effects of Israel's security measures, are making Palestinians more dependent on relief aid. At the same time, rising food and fuel prices mean international aid agencies are finding it increasingly expensive to deliver aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"It is becoming extraordinarily difficult to cover the growing needs of the Palestinian people,' said Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, WFP Representative in oPt, adding that overall donor contributions have also declined recently. 'As more people are pushed into hunger and food insecurity, we fear people's health and welfare could sharply deteriorate."

According to a Rapid Joint Food Security Survey, conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), rising prices and falling incomes have brought Palestinian purchasing power to an alltime low this year. Soaring food prices, falling incomes and growing unemployment are jeopardizing the livelihoods of Palestinians, leading to heavy debt and changes in family eating habits.

Key facts from the report:

- In the past year, the price of basic food commodities for an average household increased by almost 70 percent in the West Bank and 32 percent in the Gaza Strip following international price trends.

- In the West Bank, 56 percent of a worker's daily wages is now spent on food whereas in Gaza people spend almost 66 cents. Poor families are spending three quarters of their money on food.

- A third of Palestinians have reported a fall in income this year; the poor suffered most heavily with a 40 percent drop. Thirty seven percent of breadwinners in Gaza are now unemployed and 27 percent in the West Bank. Consequently, the dependency ratio is high (8.6 dependants per employed person in GS and 5.6 in the WB).

- Poor families rely on a diet of bread and vegetables. All Palestinians surveyed had reduced their consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat.

- Ninety seven percent of households reported being affected by the food price rises over the first three months of the year.

- Palestinians living in refugee camps continue to exhibit the highest levels of food insecurity; however, populations in urban areas have faced the highest increases in food insecurity over past two years.

- The situation is especially desperate for the population of the Gaza Strip who are heavily affected by the economic blockade. However, closed areas of the West Bank are equally affected due to high unemployment rates, wage depreciation, declining business opportunities and increased restrictions on movement and access.

According to Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, '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. Palestine refugees are facing triple threats - higher prices, greater aid dependency and more restrictions.'

The report found that a major contributing factor to the deterioration in Palestinian living standards is the difficult environment for business and agriculture resulting from rising transport costs, the tightening of Israel's security measures, rising raw material costs and lack of security for investment.

'The agricultural sector urgently needs to be strengthened to increase local food production and create vital income and employment opportunities for the struggling population,' said Luigi Damiani, the Food and Agriculture Organization's Senior Project Coordinator in Jerusalem. 'We and our implementing partners are currently assisting thousands of vulnerable farmers and herders to restore their food production capacity through the provision of agricultural inputs and training.'


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