UN food program funding cuts to worsen Palestinians’ plight

Palestinians sit in a car after they received aid from a United Nations food distribution center in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on Aug 8, 2018. (PHOTO / AFP)

The impending suspension of vital UN food assistance to 200,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza due to funding shortages could worsen the sad plight of Palestinians and low-income families already struggling to get by amid the ongoing conflict, analysts said.

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

According to the latest “Multi-Sectorial Needs Assessment of the State of Palestine 2022”, published in the WFP Palestine country brief in April, one-third of the Palestinian population, or 1.84 million people, suffer from food insecurity. Of them, 1.1 million are severely food insecure, with 90 percent of those people living in Gaza

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 United Nations World Food Program, or WFP, will have to suspend cash assistance to 200,000 Palestinians from this month.

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

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However, the WFP also highlighted that “due to limited donor funding” it was forced to reduce the standard value of the monthly e-vouchers from $12.40 to $10.30 per person from May 1.

“There is no time to spare,” Wennesland told the UN meeting. He also warned that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) 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 added.

“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. Most of the people who are going to suffer from this are mainly in Gaza where the Israeli siege continues year by year,” said Mohammad Abualrob, an assistant professor and chairperson of the Department of Media at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

“In Gaza and the West Bank, the checkpoints, the siege in Gaza, all kinds of demolition of houses in the West Bank, and (Israel’s) full control of Area C are preventing the Palestinians from investing in their lands,” he added.

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The 1995 Oslo II Accord established the administrative division of the Palestinian West Bank into areas A, B, and C. Area A is administered by the Palestinian Authority and Area C by Israel, while Area B is where the Palestinian Authority exercises administrative control but shares security control with Israeli authorities.

According to the latest “Multi-Sectorial Needs Assessment of the State of Palestine 2022”, published in the WFP Palestine country brief in April, one-third of the Palestinian population, or 1.84 million people, suffer from food insecurity. Of them, 1.1 million are severely food insecure, with 90 percent of those people living in Gaza.

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

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

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According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 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.

The number of unemployed was 367,000 in 2022 with 239,000 of these in the Gaza Strip and 128,100 in the West Bank. Total labor underutilization was 500,000 including 56,000 discouraged jobseekers and 22,000 in time-related underemployment.

According to the International Labour Organization, time-related underemployment refers to all persons in employment who want to work additional hours and are available to do so but have worked less than a specified hours threshold.

The PCBS also noted that the unemployment rate for youth graduates in the West Bank reached 28.6 percent compared to 73.9 percent in Gaza Strip.

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

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

“But at the same time, I feel the WFP, which is functioning under the UN, is using these stories to galvanize and collect some funds from different international actors, or countries,” he added.

Yousef said the situation may worsen, but at the same time, he also lamented the lack of political initiative for the region.

During the UN Security Council meeting on May 24, members of the UN Security Council urged all parties to observe the recent cease-fire and voiced alarm over continued violence, settlement activities and inflammatory rhetoric.

Earlier in May, Egypt brokered a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.