Food shortages make Gaza residents rely on aid at Eid

The Turkish Islamic aid organization IHH will distribute meat to thousands of impoverished families in the Gaza Strip this holiday season.

Erica Silverman IRIN

GAZA CITY (IRIN) - Impoverished Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are looking to aid agencies to deliver food assistance during this Eid al-Adha holiday season.

International organizations, many Islamic, have been purchasing sheep and cows in preparation for meat distribution to assist the most vulnerable families across Gaza, with several providing gifts and warm clothing as the winter season starts.

Islamic organizations are launching Qurbani appeals worldwide. Qurbani refers to the animals (camels, cattle, goats or sheep) sacrificed by Muslim adults as an obligatory act of worship.

Aid workers from a Turkish Islamic organization operating in Gaza, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), have purchased 170 cows from the local markets for their Qurbani project, which will distribute two kilograms of fresh meat to each of 17,000 needy families. IHH’s Eid assistance has a budget of $400,000 and includes a clothing distribution to 2,000 orphaned children. The organization’s larger orphan sponsorship program in Gaza assists 10,000 children who have lost at least one parent.

IHH would like to implement similar projects in the West Bank, but is unable to obtain the necessary permits from Israeli authorities, the organization’s officials in Gaza say.

Israel accuses IHH of providing support to Hamas. In 2010, Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara, a ship hired by the IHH, as part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Nine peace activists on board that vessel were shot dead by Israeli forces in international waters.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza in June 2007. IHH has supported several international campaigns against the blockade, charging that it violates human rights and deepens poverty.

“In every place we operate, coordination with the local authority is important. It’s not a matter of Hamas or of any other authority, what matters for us is being able to help those in poverty,” an IHH official in Gaza said.

Child malnutrition rises

Sixty-six percent of households in Gaza are either vulnerable to food insecurity or experiencing it, according to the World Food Program. Commercial food enters Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing, or via underground tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, but the average family’s lack of purchasing power limits what they can buy. Unemployment in Gaza stands at around 38 percent.

Taghreed, 36, (who declined to give her family name) has registered for the distribution of beef by the UK-based group, Muslim Hands International, which aims to reach 2,500 families this Eid.

She and her five children live in the Sheikh Radwan area of Gaza City, and although she works as a cleaner in a government building, her salary cannot stretch to afford meat. “I am struggling to feed my family,” Taghreed said. “I am concerned about my children’s health.”

Data collected in 2010 from twenty health centers run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) as part of its growth monitoring system for children in Gaza, indicated that 5 percent of children less than three years old showed signs of growth retardation — stunting, wasting and being underweight.

This figure had doubled since 2005, said Dr. Mohamed Maqadma, chief of UNRWA’s health program, who noted that many children in Gaza “do not have access to foods that meet growth needs.”

Escalation of violence

The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Palestinian armed resistance groups in Gaza has claimed the lives of one Israeli civilian and 12 members of Islamic Jihad’s armed wing.

Although Israel and Hamas are implementing a ceasefire mediated by Egypt, clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters have taken place in Beit Lahiya and other areas, underscoring the fragility of the truce.

“If the violence is extended and the borders are closed for a few weeks, cutting off UNRWA’s supply chain, this could have a great humanitarian impact,” the acting director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, Christer Nordahl, said.

“There is only one crossing point — Kerem Shalom, [along the Gaza-Israel boundary] — where UNRWA can bring in humanitarian supplies, such as food commodities, medical supplies and fuel,” he said.

UNRWA usually has enough fuel in stock to cover needs for two to four weeks.

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