Responding to rising humanitarian needs brought about by the escalation of conflict in the Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday began providing emergency assistance to support families, amid fears of low food stocks and rising prices.
The cash support from the UN agency, which is working alongside partners, will benefit more than 51,000 people in northern Gaza.
They include residents who now require assistance for the first time, as well as people who were already WFP beneficiaries but who have been uprooted by the violence.
A pressing need
“For people who have lost or fled their homes, one of the most pressing needs at the moment is food”, said Samer AbdelJaber. WFP Representative and Country Director in Palestine.
“The quickest and most effective way we can provide support is with cash, in the form of e-vouchers. Food is available for the time being and many local shops are still open, including those we have already contracted for our regular e-voucher support.”
WFP warned that the closure of crossings from Israel could soon lead to a scarcity in commodities, including food, and also cause food prices to rise.
The cost of fresh produce is already heading upwards as farmers are unable to reach their land.
Determining needs, and more
WFP is working with partners to determine emergency food assistance needs for people staying in UN shelters.
Other humanitarian agencies are also using its cash-based voucher electronic platform to provide non-food and other basic assistance to affected people.
Furthermore, WFP is supporting coordination of humanitarian cargo that may need to enter the enclave if borders remain closed.
Fears of further shocks
“People in Gaza have already been living on the edge and many families struggle to put food on the table. Their situation has deteriorated even further over the past year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions,” said Corinne Fleischer, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The majority of the population cannot withstand further shocks and the current situation could unleash a crisis that could spill into the entire region.”
More than two million people live in Gaza, two-thirds of whom were already suffering from food insecurity before the current escalation. Over half, or 53 per cent, live in poverty and unemployment stands at 45 per cent.
WFP regularly supports some 260,000 people in Gaza, through cash-based transfers or cash assistance for food, direct food rations, and livelihood support projects.
The agency requires an additional $31.8 million to continue its regular food assistance to more than 435,000 people in Gaza and the West Bank over the next six months. Another $14 million is needed to respond to the current emergency.
WFP pointed out that poverty and unemployment were already high prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent deterioration in security conditions.
Potential health risks
The conflict has also affected the health sector, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.
Speaking during in his bi-weekly briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva, agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported that dozens of incidents involving health workers, and facilities, occurred.
“Furthermore, COVID-19 testing and vaccination has been severely impacted. This creates health risks for the world as a whole,” he said.
Tedros underlined that protection of health workers and health facilities is an imperative in all circumstances, emphasizing that international humanitarian law must be fully respected.
“In particular, health workers and infrastructure should always be protected and I call for leaders on all sides to ensure respect for these vital humanitarian laws,” he said.
Thousands displaced or homeless
The United Nations on Monday reported that more than 38,000 displaced people are seeking shelter in 48 schools run by UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinians in Gaza. The fighting has left more than 2,500 people homeless.
More than 40 educational facilities were damaged in the fighting, and power supply has been reduced to six to eight hours a day.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lynn Hastings has appealed to the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups to immediately allow the UN andr partners to bring in fuel, food, and medical supplies and to deploy humanitarian personnel in Gaza.