- 25 pages
- May 2008
The main driver of Palestinian food insecurity is of a political nature, as key elements of vulnerability are rooted in the military and administrative measures imposed by the Israeli occupation – closure regime, permits, destruction of assets – as well as settlement expansion and derived infrastructure multiplication – access to land and water, bypass roads, etc. Soaring food prices, falling incomes and growing unemployment are jeopardizing the livelihoods of Palestinians, leading to heavy debt and changes in family eating habits. Previously self-reliant families are progressively falling into the poverty trap and are unable to escape from their situation in the absence of job opportunities. Furthermore those with work are facing increasing difficulties to manage due to unadjusted salaries, a degrading economic environment and high dependency ratios.
There is evidence of the positive effects of aid in mitigating the increase of Palestinians’ food insecurity. However food security remains poor and there are real imminent threats to the livelihoods and nutrition of a growing proportion of the population. The rapidly increasing prices of food and the declining productivity of the agricultural sector in both the West Bank (WB) and the Gaza Strip (GS) as a result of natural calamities and Israeli measures, together with the tightening of restrictions on the free movement of people and goods in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS); the unprecedented and prolonged closure of the GS; and, the inability of humanitarian organizations to meet the increasing demand for and cost of humanitarian assistance have, combined, been leading to the erosion of the livelihoods of the Palestinian population.
There is little scope for action other than that of a humanitarian-emergency nature to solve food insecurity, until the political dimension is resolved. In this framework and in concert with the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP), social safety nets activities need immediate support along with the relevant public institutions and implementing agencies.
1 INFLATION AND FOOD PRICE INCREASE
- The consumer price index for food has risen from March 2007 to the end of April 2008 by 14.6 percent in the WB and 16.3 percent in GS (PCBS, 2008). Price of wheat flour increased by 73 percent in the WB and 68 percent in the GS.
- There is high dependency on imported food items for household food consumption. Less than 5 percent of the cereals and pulses consumed in the WBGS is locally produced. Moreover, prices of locally produced fresh foods (meat, poultry and vegetables) have skyrocketed and many poor families can no longer afford them.
- Local production of food, as well as rural livelihoods dependent on agricultural production, have been hit by three major shocks in recent months: the complete closure in the GS, the late frost and a still ongoing drought in both the GS and the WB, leading to large fluctuations in the price of locally grown products. More than 12,000 farmers and many more agricultural labourers have been affected by the frost. The drought is equally affecting farmers who cannot water their crops and sheep herders who have not had any pastures to graze in the spring and cannot obtain water for their animals to drink in the summer. Distress sales of livestock are already taking place.
2 SOCIO-ECONOMIC DECLINE AND LIVELIHOOD CRISIS
- A third of Palestinians have reported a fall in income this year, the poor suffered most heavily with a 40 percent drop.
- 37 percent of breadwinners in the GS are now unemployed and 27 percent in the WB. Consequently, the dependency ratio is high (8.6 dependants per employed person in the GS and 5.6 in the WB).
- Wage employment continues to be the main source of income, followed by self-employment and transfers from relatives and friends. The main secondary source is emergency assistance in the GS.
- The agricultural sector in the GS is close to collapse, as no exports are allowed, and there is a total unavailability of fertilizer, pesticides and other crucial inputs. 70 percent of the spring crops are not being irrigated, due to the lack of fuel available for the pumps. Israeli incursions translate into significant damage to farming lands, crops and greenhouses.
- 97 percent of households reported being affected by food price rises in the past 3 months. Two thirds of the population believes to be financially steadfast for 6 months or less.
3 EROSIVE COPING MECHANISMS
- There is excessive use of negative coping strategies by the population. Having already sold disposable assets, 59 percent of households are now relying on credit to buy food. However this coping mechanism is increasingly exhausted and only available to those with a reliable income. There is progressively less informal credit availability (due to retailers’ own uncertainties) and traders are extending credit only for essential items.
- The majority of Palestinians have not paid their utility bills (water and electricity) for many months. 31 percent still rely on this strategy, however almost half of Palestinian households have already exhausted this possibility.
- Palestinians are eating less. Many parents reduce their intake to allow for their children to eat. Half the surveyed population have decreased their spending on food, 89 percent reduced the quality of food they buy while 75 percent reduced the quantity since January 2008 and almost all people have reduced their consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables and animal protein to save money. Very few Palestinians now eat fresh (red) meat.
- Families cannot afford to compensate for the lack of protein and vitamins. Considering the high prevalence of anaemia and other micro-nutrient deficiencies, this will have health consequences in the long term especially affecting children.
4 INCREASED RELIANCE ON HUMANITARIAN AID
- Food aid and other safety nets have played a major role in preventing an even higher number of people falling into poverty and food insecurity. In the GS, 60 percent of households cite emergency assistance as a secondary source of income. The corresponding figure in the WB is only 1.6 percent.
- 76 percent of households in the GS have received some type of in-cash or in-kind assistance in the past three months, with higher levels of coverage for refugees, particularly amongst the poorest segments of the population. 23 percent of households have been assisted in the WB.
- The majority of assisted households received food assistance (almost 90 percent). Health care and cash/job assistance were received by 59 percent and 51 percent of the households who reported receipt of assistance, respectively.
- Inadequate funding levels coupled with high cereal and fuel prices have led WFP to revisit its activity types and scale down its caseload and ration size, and prevented UNRWA from meeting its food aid targets.
- The relative increase of families relying on assistance over the past six months makes the current coverage by main assistance providers insufficient. There is a need for in breadth and depth expansion of assistance both in the GS and the WB.
- Survey findings show that close to 52 percent of the households believe that the received assistance has become more important to their livelihood in the last three months.
5 RISING FOOD INSECURITY
- Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity exists when this access is jeopardized. As a result of the factors analysed above, i.e. food price inflation, livelihoods deterioration and erosion of coping mechanisms, the food insecurity is rising in the WBGS however, the delivery of targeted food aid has prevented a steeper decline in the food security status.
- 38 percent of the Palestinian population is food insecure (compared to 34 percent in 2006).
- Food insecurity in the GS is more widespread, reaching 56 percent, and in the WB it is 25 percent.
- Food insecurity is higher among refugees (44 percent) compared to non refugees (33 percent) however, both population groups faced a similar increase (10 percent) in their food insecurity in the past two years. Food insecurity reaches 50 per cent in camps.
- In the WB, 56 cents of every dollar earned is now spent on food whereas in the GS people spend 66 cents/dollar earned on food. Poor families are most affected, spending three quarters of their money on food.
- Palestinians living in refugee camps continue to exhibit the highest levels of food insecurity (50 percent); however, populations in urban areas have faced the highest increases in food insecurity over past two years (from 19 percent to 22 percent in the WB and from 53 percent to 56 percent in the GS).
- Approximately 54 percent of the food insecure people live in urban areas, compared to 27 percent in rural and 19 percent in camps.
- The share of food expenditure over the total household expenditure is as high as 64 percent in urban areas compared to 60 percent in rural areas and 67 percent in camps.
- The situation is especially desperate for the population of the GS who are heavily affected by the economic blockade. However, closed areas of the WB are equally affected due to high unemployment rates, wage depreciation, declining business opportunities and increased restrictions on movement and access.