Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Financial needs in Gaza

Reasonably priced food is available to most of Gaza’s 1.8 million population, but many people cannot afford to buy it, writes Sherine Abdel-Razek

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Seventy-two per cent of Gazans were dependent on international food assistance before this year’s war, with the percentage rising to 80 per cent after the seven-week conflict.

The conflict had also resulted in “serious damage to crops, herds, greenhouses and wells used in irrigation, halting food production,” Ciro Fiorillo, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) office in the West Bank and Gaza, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The 50-day conflict cost the strip 17,000 hectares of land and around half its wealth of poultry, he added. 23,600 households who rely on agricultural livelihoods (14,000 farming, 6,000 herding and 3,600 fishing) have also been affected by the conflict.

“Many families have lost their daily sources of income and nutrition and are now unable to access or afford the basic inputs needed to resume production,” warned Abdel-Salam Ould Ahmed, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa during a press conference held on the eve of Sunday’s donor conference in the FAO premises in Cairo.

 “The agricultural sector suffered over $500 million of damage, with over 43 per cent of its production gone,” he added.

The heavy shelling in the war had forced farmers to abandon their crops and animals, prohibited access to the sea and paralysed related economic activities. Families that had lost animals or fishing assets had also lost daily sources of income and nutrition, he said.

This had brought the already weak economy in the strip to a halt, according to a World Bank report issued two weeks ago, leaving every second person in Gaza unemployed and half its population living in poverty.

All 1.8 million people living in Gaza during the conflict relied on international food aid. While this figure had now decreased by half a million, the percentage was still high, Fiorillo said, adding that “being dependent on food assistance means that people receive only basic food supplies that guarantee that no one dies from hunger, nothing more than that.”

 While inflation shot up during the crisis, with egg prices going up by 40 per cent and prices of tomatoes skyrocketing by almost 180 per cent, prices have now stabilised. “The problem is not the lack of food. The dilemma is that people don’t have the work to get the money needed to buy the food,” Fiorillo said.

Agriculture is a very important sector for the Palestinian economy in general, as it is the key for the food security of millions of people,” said Palestinian Minister of Agriculture Issa Shawki during a ceremony to sign a Letter of Intent between the FAO and his ministry on Saturday.

The cooperation aims at setting the framework for the role the UN body could play in helping the population of Gaza to secure its food needs through the upgrading of the strip’s agricultural, herding and fishing sectors.

“Gazans need these productive sectors to produce income to buy food,” Fiorillo explained.

The FAO is appealing for $27 million in international aid to carry out emergency work in the sector in addition to $118 million to cover the reconstruction of the strip’s infrastructure after the war. 

Through the emergency component of the FAO assistance, the organisation has been providing animal fodder and rebuilding water tanks to provide the strip with water. “This was through $2 million in assistance from Canada,” Fiorillo said. 

It also tried to fix greenhouses destroyed during the military assault as fast as possible in order to plant the strawberry crop in September. “The strip has good potential in some crops like strawberries and potatoes which it has started to export to the West Bank,” he added.

“Following the previous conflict in 2012, and with financial aid from the government of the Netherlands, the FAO built modern farms with greenhouses to cultivate strawberries and it provided farmers with the needed training to comply with the regulations of the European Union as a means to export them.”

“But in the war, these greenhouses were burned, as was some of the harvest, so we had to act quickly to plant new seeds on time,” Fiorillo said.

The reconstruction of the farms destroyed by the conflict, as well as the rehabilitation of the exclusion zone, now cultivated under the recent peace agreement, would need to be financed by development aid, he added.

The lack of funding to address immediate needs to reactivate production and rehabilitate land, water and market infrastructure was another main challenge.

“For the emergency part of the work we need $27 million, but up to now we have only received $4.8 million, in addition to one million Euros, out of the $118 million needed to finance the development track,” Fiorillo said.

It is not known how much of the $5.4 billion donors have pledged to Gaza will be directed to agriculture, with Fiorillo saying that the Arab countries have not previously provided assistance to the agricultural sector. 

The Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Spain and the EU have been the main donors in this field, he said.

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