Separation Fence Forces Expanded UN Food Program

A Palestinian community's proximity to the separation fence is one of four criteria for determining an operational area for the United Nations' World Food Program Assistance in the Occupied Territories.

A Palestinian community's proximity to the separation fence is one of four criteria for determining an operational area for the United Nations' World Food Program Assistance in the Occupied Territories.

Between August this year and September 2005, the WFP intends to reach 480,000 Palestinians who are not refugees, who will get a combined total of close to 80,000 tons of basic food products per month.

In a complex assessment process, the WFP decided that a rural area with the least possibility for diversifying income that was adversely affected in a direct manner by the separation fence, and in which malnutrition rates run high, would be designated a geographic unit with a "high rating" for granting food aid to residents.

WFP assessors took account of the fact that that the construction of the fence caused the loss of a substantial portion of the most fertile agricultural lands in the northern area of the fence. They had produced annual yields of $90,000 per hectare (10 dunams).

Merchants and clerks employed in the offices of the Palestinian Authority are automatically excluded from the calculations for the program.

The WFP intends to supply food baskets to 480,000 people, nearly a quarter of the 2.1 million Palestinians who are not refugees, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - compared to several hundred non-refugee families that the PA asked the WFP to assist between 1995-2000.

UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) is responsible for supplying food to 220,000 refugee families - between 1.3 million and 1.5 million people - compared to 11,000 refugee families that required food assistance before the outbreak of the intifada.

That brings the number of Palestinians dependent on direct food assistance from two different UN agencies to about 1.9 million, or half of the entire population in the territories.

Jean Luc Siblot, WFP director in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, told Haaretz that with this humanitarian aid "we take upon ourselves part of the responsibility that must belong to the government of Israel."

But the number of those in need is even higher. According to a study conducted by a WFP team prior to launching the next aid cycle, 38 percent of the non-refugee population - 752,000 - is designated as "in immediate need of food assistance (or as food insecure persons)."

Another 26 percent - 586,000 - are designated "vulnerable or in near threat to food insecurity." The WFP team found that there has been a slight drop in the number of people in need compared to last year. In 2003, 40 percent were designated "food insecure persons" and 31 percent were designated "borderline cases."

However, the number of needy rose sharply this year in the Jericho region (47 percent compared to 31 percent last year), and in Tul Karm (45 percent compared to 33 percent in 2003).

The WFP ascribe the steep increase in the number of people in need of food assistance in Tul Karm to the negative impact the separation fence has on economic activity, and on the disruptions to the local economy caused by restrictions imposed on the mobility of people, goods, and service providers.

In Jericho, where the rural population is largely dependent on animal husbandry, the price of animal feed tripled recently, and agricultural produce is difficult to market from there to other parts of the West Bank.

Of all the Palestinian districts, Rafah district has the highest rate of non-refugees designated food insecure persons at 66 percent. In Jabalya district the rate is 56 percent; in Khan Yunis, 40 percent. Within the West Bank, the high rates in Jericho and Tul Karm are followed by those in Qalqilyah (43 percent), Hebron (42 percent), and Tubas (40 percent).

The objective of the food assistance program is to lower malnutrition rates among Palestinians - 10.3 percent chronic malnutrition and 3 percent acute malnutrition.

The program is divided into two main types of aid:

* Direct food assistance, 365 days a year, to "social hardship cases" - a total of 198,000 people (105,000 in the Gaza Strip and 93,000 in the West Bank).

* Food-for-work or food-for-training assistance, for 256,000 people designated the "new poor." The aid program will supply them with food 244 days a year, in return for several days per month of work or vocational training. The "new poor" category, of which 246,000 are registered in the West Bank and the remainder in the Gaza Strip, includes farmers who lost their source of income, or day laborers who lost their jobs because of the restrictions on movement.

* More limited food assistance programs encompass 5,000 Bedouin, 7,000 fishermen, 8,000 residents of sundry welfare institutions - such as rehabilitation centers for the disabled and old-age homes - and 6,000 children who receive food additives to combat anemia and malnutrition.

The food products to be purchased will cost around $25 million. The WFP as a whole will cost some $40 million. To implement the program in full will require various countries that have volunteered to fund it to provide that entire budget.

Last year, the WFP succeeded in covering 91 percent of its budget for the territories - $31 million - but in the preceding year only 56 percent of the budget was met.