Aid agencies fear deepening Palestinian food insecurity

The heads of two United Nations aid agencies have expressed their alarm over the worsening food insecurity in the West Bank and Gaza, where one in three Palestinian households now struggle to feed their families.

Initial findings of a UN survey carried out in the impoverished region found that 34 per cent of households did not have access to sufficient food in 2012.

This represents a “dramatic” rise from 27 per cent in 2011, the main UN humanitarian agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a joint statement.

“High food prices and low wages mean that 1.6 million Palestinians don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, which supports more than 600,000 households in Palestine. “Food security is security,” Cousin said. “It is a vital component for sustained peace across the region.”

The worsening food situation is a result of Palestine’s high unemployment rates and stagnant economic growth, which are underpinned by the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the six-year blockade of Gaza.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in June warned that Palestine’s fiscal crisis was rapidly turning into an economic and social catastrophe, and called on Israel to lift its restrictions on movement, employment and economic activity.

“The continuing occupation and expanding settlement activity are blocking the Palestinian economy, particularly its private sector, from significant progress,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder. “This calls for Israel not only to relax the application of restrictions on people and businesses, but to lift them altogether, thus enabling the Palestinian economy to grow and generate decent jobs.”

Unemployment in Palestine rose by 15.3 per cent between 2011 and 2013, according to ILO data, reaching around 23 per cent of the workforce.

The situation is particularly acute in Gaza, where unemployment has reached 31 per cent and is almost 50 per cent among women.