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Fund crunch may spark crisis in Gaza

By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-07 09:18
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Palestinians carry bags of flour provided to poor families at a distribution center in a refugee camp in Gaza city on Monday. MAHMUD HAMS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The impending suspension of vital UN food assistance to 200,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza because of funding shortages could worsen the humanitarian crisis for Palestinians and low-income families struggling amid the current conflict, analysts said.

Continued Israeli aggression toward occupied Palestinian territories has prevented Palestinians from "investing in their lands" and contributing to economic development, they said.

Speaking at a United Nations Security Council meeting via video-conference on May 24, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said that without new funding, the UN World Food Programme will have to suspend cash assistance to 200,000 Palestinians from this month.

The WFP supported 350,246 people in need in April. Of these, 277,246 received cash-based transfers in the form of a monthly e-voucher worth $12.40 per person.

However, it was forced to reduce the standard value of the vouchers to $10.30 per person from May 1 because of "limited donor funding", it said.

"There is no time to spare," Wennesland told the UN meeting. He also warned the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East will not have the resources to deliver core services as soon as September.

Without increased funding "we will face serious humanitarian and, potentially, security challenges", he said.

Mohammad Abualrob, assistant professor and chairperson of the Department of Media at Birzeit University in the West Bank, said: "I think this time the threat is real and clear. The low-income people will be suffering because the international community reduced their financial aid to the poor people in Palestine.

Israeli siege

"Most of the people who are going to suffer from this are mainly in Gaza where the Israeli siege continues year by year."

Various obstacles, such as the siege in Gaza and the demolition of houses in the West Bank, are "preventing the Palestinians from investing in their lands", he said.

According to the "WFP Palestine Country Brief April 2023", one-third of the Palestinian population, or 1.84 million people, suffer from food insecurity. Of these, 1.1 million are severely food insecure, with 90 percent of those people living in Gaza.

In Gaza and the West Bank, 73,000 people were reached through quarterly in-kind distributions, with 2,310 metric tons of wheat flour, chickpeas, olive oil, lentils, salt and vegetable oil handed out, the WFP said.

The Israeli siege in Gaza had also pushed the unemployment rate past 50 percent among Palestinian youth, Abualrob said, and any reduction of financial aid to low-income people "will cause more suffering to Palestinian families, mainly because of Israeli procedures".

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate among labor force participants in Palestine reached 24 percent in 2022, while total labor underutilization, which also includes underemployment, reached 31 percent.

Ayman Yousef, a professor of international relations at the Arab American University in Jenin, a town in the West Bank, said food security in the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza, "is really in bad shape".

"I think there's more suffering (in Gaza) than West Bank. These kinds of stories are very much available among Palestinian refugees. As you know, Gaza is a community of refugees, affecting both men and women, as well as children."



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