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By Dania Darwish
The Swedish Village, a remote village of fishermen in the far south of the Gaza Strip in the occupied Palestinian territory, is home to some 95 households living under extreme poverty. Visitors to the Village – built by the Swedish Government in the 1960s – can immediately see the poor infrastructure and inappropriate living conditions tolerated by its 700 inhabitants, who live on less than $US1 per day.
Part of a larger fishing community in the Gaza Strip, the fishermen of that area have faced years of neglect in terms of development activities. But that is not their only worry.
“We were born fishermen. My father was a fisherman and my grandfathers before him. Before, fishing was safer and more productive. Now, we are subject to different risks,” said Kamel Abu Odah, a 50-year-old fisherman with a family of eight and a long-time resident of the Swedish Village.
“We have grown so poor that I cannot buy fishing nets anymore. They are too expensive. I can hardly provide daily food, send my children to school or get appropriate medical care,” he added.
Abu Odah, who used to earn $250 to $350 a month, now benefits from a $4,000 in-kind grant of fishing nets, provided by UNDP’s Deprived Families Economic Empowerment Programme (DEEP). His was one of nine households to receive these nets in his village, based on a needs assessment that flagged his family as extremely poor and in need of a small grant to get back on their feet.
With new nets that enable him to catch different sizes and types of fish, and trained in bookkeeping to monitor his income and expenditures, Abu Odah and his two sons have resumed their daily fishing trips.
His business has expanded, and his brother and nephew are also benefiting from the project. His records show that his income has increased to between $1,300 and $1,500 a month.
“I can now save money, buy the boat I always dreamt of and send my daughter to university next year,” Abu Odah said.
DEEP is a $48 million poverty reduction programme, funded by the Islamic Development Bank and implemented across the West bank and Gaza by UNDP. To date, the Programme has created 12,000 permanent employment opportunities through grants for microenterprises and has helped over 66,000 families to graduate from poverty to economic self-reliance.
DEEP’s strategy is to help people decide on the best means to address their own needs, come up with their own solutions and feel ownership of their new small business or other income-generating ini-tiatives. Its participatory approach makes sure that projects are tailor-made for specific communities. The Programme’s goal is to overcome the long-term problem of dependency produced by the political crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. In Gaza alone, over 75 percent of the population receives aid in the face of food insecurity and restrictions to economic and social growth.
DEEP’s approach goes beyond traditional interventions such as short-term employment; instead, it is a dynamic approach that looks at the development of a family as a unit.
In Gaza, DEEP faces many challenges due to restrictions, resulting in a lack of raw materials, a rapid increase in prices and an unstable exchange rate.
In the face of all these restrictions, UNDP, with its partners, is striving to make sure the programme operates smoothly. To date, the DEEP programme has managed to provide support to more than 500 families to improve their livelihoods, ranging from Abu Odah’s fishing nets to helping a young woman in the West Bank set up her own photo and video studio. UNDP’s work is aided by local non-governmental organizations and partners.
Through DEEP, participating families are not only improving their livelihoods, but also beginning to perceive themselves differently as agents and producers of their own well-being as they attend DEEP meetings and speak of their needs and experiences.
“My life has changed. Now, I am planning to build a concrete ceiling,” said Abu Odah, whose home is covered with tin like many in his community. “You cannot imagine how cold winter gets here, since we live close to the beach. My grandsons always get sick.”
Abu Odah is one of many of DEEP’s successes. The Programme was nominated for the Palestine International Award for Excellence and Creativity in October 2011, based on its pioneering approach to sustainable socioeconomic development to fight poverty in the occupied Palestinian territory.
DEEP’s methods undergo continuous review, improvement and modification to remain relevant and responsive to the needs of Palestinian families. Its success in the occupied Palestinian territory is suggesting possibilities for expanding the programme regionally.