Gaza Strip: Israel’s war on Palestine’s food and water

Israel is pulling out all stops to ensure that residents of the Gaza strip are left without any food and water. Meanwhile, the house-building activity in the occupied territory continues unabated

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Ashish Kumar Singh

The siege of the Gaza Strip by Israel has created a food crisis among its residents. Around 60 per cent of the households in the Gaza Strip suffer from food insecurity, while an additional 16.2 per cent are considered vulnerable to it. Besides, 36 per cent of bread-winners of food-insecure households remain unemployed.

The very first of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by World Health Organisation to be achieved by 2015 is to "Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger". The same report, states that in developing countries one of every four children is suffering from hunger. The causes, apart from inadequate water and poor sanitation, are lack of food and poor feeding habits. The Gaza Strip is an extreme case under the realm of developing world.

People living in the Gaza Strip have been subject to devastating living conditions for decades.

This is not the result of extreme weather conditions, but of man-made actions. This certainly poses challenging questions regarding equal rights to health and development as well as human rights.

The Gaza Strip is a 360 sq. km narrow piece of land bordering Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. It had a population of about 1.8 million, as of 2014. Three-quarters of the population are Palestinian refugees, with approximately 44 per cent of the residents below the age of 15.

The people of Gaza Strip have been living under occupation since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. A rapid growth in the Palestinian economy was expected after the Oslo Accords in 1993, but the limited development was disrupted when Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council election in January 2006 and took control of the Government and security positions in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appointed a new caretaker government in June 2007 and declared the Hamas government as illegal. This was supported by Israel and the international community, with the people of Gaza having to live with its consequences.

At the end of 2008 and subsequently January 2009, Gaza suffered its deadliest military attack ever, for which observers blamed Israel. During the 21-day-offensive, large parts of the existing industrial and civilian infrastructure, as well as thousands of houses, were destroyed.

The armed conflict is now daily endangering people's lives, further preventing them from fully utilizing their own resources to feed themselves.

The precarious political situation has made the people of Gaza dependent on humanitarian aid, but the closure has for long kept sufficient food from entering Gaza.

Donors are still waiting for the embargo to be lifted. Subsequently, 60.5 per cent of the households in Gaza Strip suffer from food insecurity, while an additional 16.2 per cent are considered vulnerable to it. That means, these households are either not getting sufficient food or the kind of food they can get hold of lacks required nutrition.

Thirty-six percent bread-winners (heads) of food-insecure households are unemployed. Studies point out that the ratio of bread-winner and number of dependents is also high.

The armed conflict leads to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation and flood controls, seeds etc. Trees are cut down as part of the military's strategy to prevent ambush, or they may die through lack of care and irrigationw. It was reported in June 2009 that 15 per cent of agricultural land was destroyed during the last war, and 29 per cent made inaccessible due to the establishing of a "security buffer zone". It has also reduced the animal production in the area. Animals may be killed, stolen or succumb to death due to the unavailability of veterinary services.

Gaza has a 40 km coastline which could be ideal for a thriving fishing industry, but it is forbidden to enter three nautical miles (nm) off the coast. In addition, fishermen are frequently subjected to arrests, seizing of boats and shooting from the Israeli navy.

Gaza farmers also have limited access to the agricultural areas, and are risking their lives when they go out to work in their fields. Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is regularly reporting on incidents where farmers are wounded or even killed.

The last decade has also seen an excessive uprooting of olive trees in Gaza - more than 3,00,000 in an interval of five years. Olives and olive oil have an important role in the Palestinian kitchen, and it will take centuries to compensate this loss.

Gaza's main source of drinking water is the Coastal Aquifer. For centuries, this aquifer has provided adequate supplies of clean water, but in recent years Israeli restrictions on the Palestinian movement have put undue strain on the aquifer. In order to meet their needs, Palestinians are forced to pump water faster than it can be replaced by rainfall or the natural flow of groundwater from the east. When this happens, water from the sea seeps into the aquifer, thus contaminating Gaza's only fresh water source.

Gaza's sanitation crisis might be even more severe. The region’s wastewater infrastructure has functioned only intermittently since Israel imposed its siege in 2007. Untreated waste goes directly into the sea and contaminates further the already scarce ground water, causing a host of environmental and humanitarian problems.

Unemployment has increased by 15.1 per cent between first and second half of 2008. A minimal decrease was reported in the first half of 2009 but in the second half of the year unemployment was at its highest recorded level of 44.1 per cent.

For decades, the war has affected the lives of people living in Gaza. Leave other necessities, food is one thing that can, at least, "keep people alive". People of Gaza are not that fortunate either. They are trapped in vicious circles of poverty and food insecurity.

Since the issue of food and nutrition security in Gaza is not merely an issue related to health and poverty, but a more complex problem between the two nations, it demands cooperation from all the stakeholders involved.

(with inputs from Kristin Øren)

(Ashish Singh is a doctoral candidate at Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow. He can be reached on ashish.tiss@gmail.com. Kristin Øren works as Special Advisor, Refugee Services, in Skedsmo Kommune, Norway. Her email is kristin.oren@skedsmo.kommune.no).

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Published: 30 Nov 2017, 3:13 PM