The assessment was conducted between 29 January and 8 February 2009, and thus reflects the situation some two weeks into the ceasefire. Key Informant and household interviews (semi-structured), direct observations, market visits and meetings with various charitable organizations and industry associations were the main tools used to collect the information. Secondary data was also used to inform the assessment and guide the design of the assessment tools.
The key findings of the EFSA indicate that:
1. The 23 day offensive in Gaza has left substantial damage to infrastructure and agricultural land, and caused substantial human suffering, which exacerbated the deterioration in the livelihoods already affected by the prolonged closure regime before the war. Having lost their life-long savings, homes, and productive assets during the war, previously self-reliant families have joined the ranks of the destitute and find themselves completely reliant on assistance. Furthermore those who work are facing increasing difficulties to make ends meet due to unadjusted salaries, a degrading economic environment and increased dependency ratios.
2. There is evidence of the positive effects of aid in mitigating the increase of Palestinians' food insecurity. However, food security remains poor and there are real imminent threats to the livelihoods and nutrition of a growing proportion of the population. Before the war, food insecurity was already high, affecting 56 percent of the population. With the massive destruction incurred by the war, this situation has been further aggravated.
3. Food availability is back to pre-war levels but the supplies of local fresh foods are anticipated to decrease seriously by April-June 2009 due to the severe damages sustained by the agricultural sector during the war. Similar supplies of rice, pulses, canned vegetables, pickles, sauces, tea, coffee, fruit juices as before the war can be found in retail shops throughout Gaza Strip, at comparable pre-war prices. It must be noted, however, that these prices had substantially increased throughout 2008 due to international food price rises, high dependence on imports for food supplies and internal transportation costs, and additional costs linked to the restrictions at crossing points with Israel. The availability of food in the local market in Gaza continues to be unpredictable as it was pre-war.
The exceptions are fresh chicken, red meat and eggs, for which availability has decreased due to the heavy losses incurred during the war, and of which prices are now unaffordable for many households. Households compensate with increased consumption of canned meat and canned fish. Canned meat and hygiene products‟ (toilet paper, soap, detergents, sanitary pads, and diapers, etc.) availability is limited, as it was pre-war. Dairy products are also not widely available, as they are stocked by a limited number of shops that have back-up electricity generators.
While locally produced fresh vegetables are currently available at relatively low prices, the damages of the war combined with the prolonged effects of the closure on the availability of agricultural inputs and limited rainfall, as well as the reticence of farmers to re-cultivate their lands for fear of possible future escalations, will undoubtedly decrease the availability of the next harvest; their availability is expected to sharply decrease, thus limiting the supply of a rich source of vitamins and minerals. As local production used to be the main source of these foods, future shortages may be compensated by imports from Israel or the West Bank (if authorised) but prices will be higher and economic access will therefore be more difficult for poor households. In fact, this the case now for fruits imported from Israel. Most Gazan households interviewed cannot afford to buy them and consider them to be a “luxury item”. Interventions geared towards supporting farmers to rehabilitate and cultivate their lands are thus very much needed.
4. Economic access to food is affected for those households who have suffered direct war losses of housing, productive assets, jobs and pre-war humanitarian assistance, but not yet significantly for the others. Households who have lost their land, animals, fishing or other working equipment, and/or employment (such as agricultural labour or casual work), have lost the only source of cash income they had to lessen their dependence on external assistance.
As a result, to meet their food and other basic requirements, they currently rely on: (i) external humanitarian food and non-food assistance, (ii) relatives' and neighbours' solidarity, and (iii) debts authorised by shop-keepers. Their self-sufficiency capacity has been decreased, even though so far their food consumption is not significantly worse than it was pre-war. This should not overshadow the fact that economic access to food was already a serious issue before the war due to the protracted crisis caused by the closure and loss of livelihoods for a significant proportion of the population in Gaza.
Households who have suffered damages to their housing units but whose salaries have not been affected (such as Palestinian Authority [PA] employees) or who can rely on some pre-war savings, do not yet face food access difficulties because they continue to give priority to food rather than to rebuilding of their house or restoring their land for example. However, they might be at risk of becoming food insecure if they fail to receive compensation or support for the reconstruction of their dwellings and need to pool their own resources to fix their possessions.
The 60 displaced households (358 persons) remaining in collective centers as of 10 February 2009 are fully dependent on daily supplies of cooked food by UNRWA. It seems that most of these families are unable to leave the shelters without even higher levels of assistance, as they have additional needs to rent a living space and restore a minimum level of household domestic assets (cooking utensils, bedding, clothing).
5. Food utilization and nutritional status are likely to deteriorate if urgent repairs of the water systems and of damaged housing units are not undertaken. Access to water for drinking and hygiene purposes was already problematic before the war but has been completely disrupted for households whose housing units were damaged. The amount of water available has also further decreased for both host and hosted families. Anecdotal visual observations indicate poor hygiene especially of young children. Overcrowding for families hosting relatives whose house was damaged, destroyed or is felt too dangerously located near the Israeli border, also increases risks of spread of infectious diseases.
Most households, even those displaced, have access to cooking fuel, including through their host families and through the use of firewood. Supplies of fuel (including from the tunnels) have resumed, although apparently not yet at the same pre-war levels due to the destruction of tunnels during the war. Prices of fuel smuggled through tunnels, however, are not significantly different – although slightly higher – from their pre-war levels. Cooking gas remains scarce as it was pre-war, however, and most families rely on old-style kerosene heat ranges and firewood for cooking. This is forcing many households, especially those that do not have open areas in which to use firewood, to reduce their reliance on cooked foods and increasing their consumption of ready-to-eat dry foods.
6. Coping mechanisms have been amazingly quick to resume and households’ resilience is generally impressive, however the protracted use of distress coping mechanisms before the war and the additional shock of the war requires rapid economic and material responses so that difficult arbitrages are not made on the allocation of resources to food versus non-food requirements. While pre-war coping mechanisms have been re-activated extremely quickly and enabled most households to secure their pre-war level of food consumption (use of external humanitarian assistance, solidarity networks and shop-keepers' debt authorisations), the additional shock created by the war will put an additional demand on households' resources.
Should households who have suffered direct house and livelihood damages not benefit from rapid economic and material support to recover their housing and productive capacity, they are likely to review their resource allocation priorities with potential negative effects on the amount and quality of their diet. Arbitrage on resources may also affect negatively children's attendance to school (savings made on transportation, uniforms and other materials) and use of health services (further discouraged by the destruction of facilities and shortages of drugs and personnel).
It is also clear that food access remains highly unsatisfactory for households who have not been directly war-affected. Most continue to depend on external food and cash or temporary job assistance to meet at least part of their needs, and their diet remains extremely monotonous.
Based on the above preliminary results, the following recommendations for immediate action are made:
1. Continue providing food assistance to the pre-war destitutes at the same pre-war levels.
Humanitarian organizations are strongly encouraged to design interventions to restore damaged agricultural assets, including but not limited to greenhouses, irrigation wells, pumps and networks, poultry farms and other animal farms, fences, olive and citrus groves, and fishing boats. In doing so measures should be taken to establish interim social assistance programmes to support farming households until they restore their full productive capacity.
Food- or cash-for-work interventions for some households with working capacity could be an option to complement a free food ration, particularly geared towards repairs of housing and restoration of land for example. Access to raw materials and equipment is indispensable however may be difficult if the restrictions of entry by the Israeli authorities are not lifted.
4. Restore agricultural productive assets and capacity in order to mitigate the risk of raising food insecurity for the short and medium term.
The coverage of “fast impact” household food production projects, such as the distribution of backyard animal production packages (e.g., rabbits/chickens plus cage and feed) and horticulture packages (e.g., seeds, fertilizer and water tank), should be increased. In addition, farming inputs (seeds, fertilizers, seedlings, animal feed, vet kits, plastic sheeting, spare parts, fishing nets and supplies, etc) should be distributed to all households who can resume the next productive cycle.
In parallel, farmers should be supported to reclaim damaged land and restore productive assets, including irrigation networks, greenhouses, fruit tree plantations (olive and citrus groves, guava, etc.), small-scale poultry farms meeting bio-safety standards to reduce AI risks, livestock shelters and re-stocking (sheep, goats, cows, rabbits, chicks), food processing, marketing/storage and packing facilities, aquaculture ponds and equipment.
Finally, assisting export-dependent farmers after the conflict is necessary to ensure strategic food production capacity and employment opportunities in the Gaza Strip. Assistance should be provided to enhance the diversification of the agricultural production patterns in the Gaza Strip to better meet local food requirements, besides cash crops, and hence contribute towards mitigating longer term vulnerability to food insecurity.
5. With regard to food security analysis, it is recommended to further develop the Food Security Monitoring and Early Warning System in the Gaza Strip, building on the capacities available in FAO Food security Team and WFP VAM. The various uncertainties identified (levels of supplies and prices of fresh food in the coming months, extent and speed at which economic and material support to restore the livelihoods of directly war-affected households will be provided), as well as possible re-escalation of violence and tightening of the crossing closures, make it imperative to closely monitor the market food supply and prices, households‟ income sources and access to external food, cash and other in-kind assistance, to be able to quickly adjust the level and modalities of food and voucher assistance being provided, as well as the caseload of beneficiaries. The mechanisms and partnerships already established for food security monitoring for the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole should be built upon, so that some consistency is also maintained between what is being done in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, while accommodating the specific conditions and requirements of each territory. In Gaza for example, close monitoring of land use/cover change to forecast the availability of vegetable/fruit crops, and of the prices and availability of agricultural inputs (animal feed, fertilizer, pesticides, spare parts, fuel etc.) will be important. A newsletter highlighting the food security trends should be produced on a regular basis.