Food Security Survey
State of Palestine
SINCE 2009, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in coordination with the Food Security Sector (FSS) — co-led by FAO and WFP in close collaboration with UNRWA — have administered the Socio-Economic and Food Security (SEFSec) survey, which is an initiative aimed at identifying and characterizing changes in the food security status of Palestinian households.
This monitoring of trends requires a comprehensive set of criteria and indicators to profile the food security status of the Palestinian population. Until 2012, the SEFSec survey adopted a methodology developed in 2007 that classified households into food security groups according to household poverty status and economic vulnerability by combining income, consumption and a set of seven vulnerability variables. However, there have been significant advances in food security measurement since the original SEFSec. At the same time, there have also been changes in Palestinian socioeconomic conditions.
As a result of these changes, in 2013 the FSS decided to review the SEFSec methodology to reflect the multi-dimensional drivers of food insecurity in Palestine, introducing a three-pillar structure based on asset-based poverty, qualitative and quantitative aspects of food consumption, and resilience to capture the capacity of households to adapt, transform and cope with shocks or stressors. Due to the conceptual differences between the previous and the new methodology, the food security level results obtained with the original SEFSec methodology in previous reports cannot be compared with those obtained with the new methodology as presented in the current report.
This report analyses the data from the fifth and sixth SEFSec surveys of 2013 and 2014 respectively. Data collection took place in two phases during the first quarters of 2014 and 2015, with a reference period covering the six months preceding the interview— approximately the second half of 2013 and 2014, respectively. The 2013 SEFSec survey was conducted on a sample of 7,503 households (4,949 in the West Bank1 and 2,554 in the Gaza Strip), while the 2014 sample consists of 8,177 households (5,047 in the West Bank and 3,130 in the Gaza Strip).
An important and novel feature of the SEFSec 2013-2014, together with the new methodology, is the rotating nature of its sampling design. Most of the households sampled in 2013 (approximately 92 percent) were also sampled in 2014: this means that the evolution of these households over the two years can be properly evaluated. As in previous SEFSec rounds, the sample is representative at the following levels of disaggregation: gender, refugee status, governorate, locality type and, for the West Bank, Areas A/B and C.
By and large, the SEFSec 2013-2014 indicates that in Palestine, food insecurity primarily stems from a lack of economic access to food that is intrinsically correlated to poverty. Yet, this does not exclude the risk of insufficient or unstable food supply remaining high, both in the Gaza Strip, where the blockade and the 2014 conflict dramatically affect productive capacity, and in the West Bank, where restrictions to movement heavily constrain economic activities and livelihoods.
Food Security in the State of Palestine
IN the Gaza Strip, nearly ten years of blockade, the closure of illegal tunnels with Egypt in 2013 and, in particular, the recurrent conflicts, most recently in 2014 have resulted in the exacerbation of the gradual process of de-development, which has been ongoing since the imposition of the blockade, leading to a severe contraction in GDP (-15 percent in 2014) as well as increasing food assistance dependency. In the West Bank, physical obstacles including the barrier and checkpoints, together with administrative obstacles including permit requirements and the designation of closed military areas, continued to impede Palestinians' access to services and resources.
As a result, in 2014 food insecurity in Palestine was very high, with more than one quarter of the population (27 percent or 1.6 million people) food insecure. In particular, food insecure households were evenly divided between the severely food insecure and moderately food insecure (approximately 13 percent each), while the marginally food secure accounted for another 15 percent and the remaining 58 percent of households were food secure.
In 2014, food insecure households within the Gaza Strip account for 47 percent, while in the West Bank 16 percent of households are food insecure. Between 2013 and 2014, the situation became worse in the Gaza Strip (a change of 2 percentage points); while in the West Bank a relative improvement (approximately 6 percentage points) took place, resulting in an overall increase in food security at the national level of 3 percentage points. These dynamics are also mirrored at the sub-regional level, with the whole West Bank indicating an improvement in food security status, while in the Gaza Strip food security became worse in two sub-regions out of three (i.e. North and Centre). Despite the differences in the nature and intensity of restrictions to the freedom of movement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, these restrictions have a significant impact on food security status and demonstrate a similar pattern in both regions: the fewer (or more) the limitations on freedom of movement and access, the greater the likelihood of being food secure (or insecure).
The different food insecurity dynamics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are better understood by examining the breakdown of data between refugee and non-refugee households. In the West Bank, food insecurity levels are higher among refugees than among non-refugees (22 and 14 percent respectively in 2014). The gap between refugees' and non-refugees' access to food is widening; this is mainly driven by the higher refugee unemployment rate. Refugee households in the Gaza Strip present slightly lower food insecurity levels than non-refugee households both in 2013 and 2014, despite facing comparable employment levels.
Both refugee and non-refugee households experienced a worsening of food security status (approximately 1 and 3 percentage points respectively). This reflects a generalized decline in food access in the Gaza Strip as a result of labour entitlement failure. The unemployment rate jumped to a record height of 44 percent in 2014, 11 percentage points more than in 2013. There was also a sharp increase in food price level (12 percent between May and August 2014), volatility due to the 2014 hostilities and the resulting collapse of the economy.
The negative impact of the protracted crisis situation on food access in the Gaza Strip is particularly severe for urban households among which food insecurity increased by 3 percentage points. In the West Bank, the incidence of food insecurity among urban households improved by 7 percentage points. Rural households, although still facing a high incidence of food insecurity (overall in Palestine approximately 21 percent), are those that improved most between 2013 and 2014 (approximately 6 percentage points). This indicates that, overall, rural households are relatively better equipped than other household typologies to respond to shocks, a tendency which had already emerged in the 2012 SEFSec report. In 2014, the share of food insecure households in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is 46 and 29 percent respectively. Food security has become worse in the West Bank (by 3 percentage points), while in the Gaza Strip it has slightly improved (by 3 percentage points).
The distribution of households by major income source is similar in both regions. As expected,
the households indicating the greatest share of food insecurity are those that receive their major source of income from assistance (either from international organizations or social assistance). Vice versa, the households that have access to more stable and higher income sources among others the Israeli labour market or insurance, and those whose major source of income comes from international organizations jobs are those that indicate an improved food security performance. Obtaining a livelihood from the primary sector (agriculture, animal breeding and fishing) is usually associated with relatively worse performance in terms of food security.
Gender also affects the incidence of food insecurity among Palestinian households. Almost one fourth of male-headed households are food insecure, compared to one third of female-headed households, a difference that is relatively stable across time. In the Gaza Strip, both female- and male-headed households are almost evenly divided between food secure and insecure, whilst in the West Bank only 15 percent of male-headed households are food insecure compared to 25 percent of female-headed households.
Consumption and Expenditure Patterns
PALESTINIAN total per capita expenditure rose slightly in real terms from 2013 to 2014 as a result of a marked increase in the West Bank, and a decrease in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian households devote a large proportion of their total expenditure to food (55 percent of total expenditure in 2014), with severely food insecure households still spending less than half of the total average expenditure of those classified as food secure, meaning food consumption remains vulnerable to income and price fluctuations.
Overall, almost 40 percent of Palestinian households state that their perceived living standards deteriorated during the first half of 2014. In the Gaza Strip, this ratio reflects almost two thirds of households; while in the West Bank 30 percent of households perceive that their living standard has deteriorated.
Shocks, Coping Strategies and Resilience
A large proportion of Palestinian households report facing some shocks in the second half of 2014. The most significant shocks, which often are also those more frequently reported, rank as follows: high cost of food supply (90 percent of total households), shortage of water, inability to pay treatment costs, inability to repay loans and delay of payment of salary.
To cope with these shocks, Palestinian households resorted to a number of coping strategies during the month preceding the survey. Almost 92 percent of households in the Gaza Strip adopted at least one coping strategy, which compares with 60 percent in the West Bank. The most frequently chosen coping strategies are: consuming less expensive food items, purchasing market leftovers, purchasing food on credit, and reducing the portions and the number of meals. Defaulting on payment of utility bills and reducing health and education expenses are the most frequently adopted nonfood coping strategies both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is a worrying sign of the increasingly deteriorating livelihood conditions of Palestinian households. Reducing health and education expenses is the prelude to a gradual downward spiral toward a poverty trap where poverty and destitution are an irreversible condition: a deteriorated health status hinders the working capability of household members, while the lack of investment in human capital prevents higher productivity of labour and capacity to gain sufficient income.
The new SEFSec methodology also includes resilience as one of the three dimensions to identify a household's food security status. It is acknowledged that in a context such as Palestine, which is characterised by repeated shocks and high household vulnerability, there is a strong correlation between food security and household resilience. Overall, this is reflected in the fact that households with a higher level on the resilience index tend to be more food secure, while households with lower levels on the resilience index tend to be more food insecure.
Comparing the same relationship for the two regions, it can be observed that the proportion of food insecure (extremely plus moderately food insecure) are consistently greater in the Gaza Strip than in the West Bank, irrespective of which class of resilience is considered. This is a clear indication that the shocks affecting Gazan households over the period 2013-2014 are much stronger than those experienced by households in the West Bank, whilst the capacity of Gazan households to cope with the shocks is lower.
THE profiling analysis indicates a similar pattern between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, although socio-economic and food security indicators are consistently worse in the latter region. Food insecure households have more family members than food secure families, indicating a much higher economic dependency ratio, a lower income (approximately 50 percent less than food secure households), a higher incidence of insufficient dietary intake (quantitative indicator) as well as a poor or borderline food consumption score (qualitative indicator). Unemployment of the head of households is also more likely among food insecure households than food secure households.
Food security status is largely dominated by its access dimension (specifically by labour entitlement), which represents the most important determinant of food access. Data indicatesthatthe more problematic a household's labour status, generally featuring increased labour informality and precariousness, the more likely that household is to face food insecurity. Furthermore, the presence of disability, elderly, and chronic illness within the household is correlated with higher levels of food insecurity.
Impact of Assistance
IN 2014, approximately 40 percent of all Palestinian households reported they received at least one type of assistance, with a marked difference in the proportion of households receiving assistance between the Gaza Strip (84 percent) and the West Bank (less than 17 percent). Compared to the previous year, the
overall proportion of households receiving assistance increased both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, reversing a decreasing trend that had been taking place since 2011. The major change was recorded in the Gaza Strip, where between 2013 and 2014, the proportion of assisted households increased by more than 18 percentage points, bringing it back to a level greater than that of 2011. Vice versa, the change between 2013 and 2014 in the West Bank was less than 2 percentage points, still 8 percentage points below the level existing in the region in 2011.
The composition of the various types of assistance in 2013 and 2014 did not change significantly in the West Bank with a larger proportion of households reporting 'cash' and 'food' assistance. In contrast, there were significant changes in the Gaza Strip where, besides the three types of assistance constituting the core of assistance in this area ('food', 'cash' and 'health insurance'), new types of assistance were reported as important by respondents. 'Food voucher, drinking water' and 'clothing' all increased significantly between 2013 and 2014 in response to the sharp deterioration of living conditions in the Gaza Strip as a result of the conflict that called for heavy interventions providing basic needs. Furthermore, 'shelter' as a form of assistance was reported by more than 3 percent of surveyed households.
The average value of assistance received by assisted households was equal to 102 US$/ month, ranging from the 138 US$/month of the severely food insecure group to 81 US$/month of the food secure group. In the Gaza Strip the average value of assistance is substantially higher than in the West Bank (108 US$/month vs. 86 US$/month, respectively). At the same time, the number of forms of assistance received is much more than in the West Bank (3.7 in the Gaza Strip vs. 1.5 in the West Bank).
In both areas, the proportion of assisted people decreases as food security level increases. However, it is remarkable that in the Gaza Strip the largest change in assistance coverage between 2013 and 2104 is among the food secure households (32 percentage points increase) and the marginally food secure households
(18 percentage point increase). Indeed, the deterioration of the living conditions in the Gaza Strip has also required provision of support to these groups of households.
The panel nature of the 2013 and 2014 SEFSec surveys allows the assessment of the impact of the assistance on food security levels. The analysis indicated that social assistance interventions have a positive, but not statistically significant impact (p = 0.19) on the probability to be food secure. This result may not be unexpected considering that assistance did not target only food insecure households, but rather poor households. The same analysis was undertaken to assess the impact of the assistance on poverty by modelling the probability that a household would belong to the non-poor group. In this case the impact of assistance is stronger and statistically significant (p = 0.00).
THE two most important messages of the SEFSec 2013-14 are that (i) food insecurity is mainly driven by economic access issues caused by the lack of economic opportunities, and (ii) economic opportunities critically depends on the divergent socio-economic dynamics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Therefore, measures to address food insecurity need to emphasize economic growth and the creation of sustainable economic opportunities. At the same time, food insecurity can only be sustainably achieved if its root causes are addressed, i.e. lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip and ending West Bank access restrictions as steps towards ending the occupation.
Household profiling indicates that some household characteristics — such as being female-headed, being a refugee, residing in camps and having members with disabilities or chronic illnesses — are clearly related to an increased likelihood of food insecurity. Some others — such as living in rural areas or being engaged in agriculture as a primary activity —show mixed evidence. While the latter needs to be better analysed to understand the conduit mechanisms leading to specific food security outcomes, needs-based targeting taking
into account the former should be further strengthened by major assistance providers.
To optimize the impact of assistance to food insecure Palestinians, assistance efficiency as well as overall available resources should increase. The Social Protection Sector Strategy led by the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) has proved to be an effective framework for increased coordination among all involved stakeholders. However, the modalities for assistance should be further harmonized, and coordination mechanisms between major assistance providers including governmental actors, INGOs, national organizations, and UN bodies strengthened.
Finally, the consistency over time of the SEFSec survey is deemed as an important means for analysing trends and changes related to the food security status of Palestinians. This survey should be aligned within the national statistic institutions plans, and its methodology should be in line with similar national surveys. Key local and international stakeholders should make all efforts to ensure continuity to SEFSec. If this is not possible, local and international stakeholders should provide valid and solid alternative solutions in order to ensure provision of reliable, continuous, and significant information that can inform proper analysis on food security in Palestine.
1 In this report any reference to the West Bank should be taken to include East Jerusalem unless otherwise indicated.