In the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS), recurrent conflict and increasing restrictions over natural resources, markets and services are depriving families of their basic needs for survival and placing their ability to cope under severe strain. Food security and livelihoods have been directly impacted by increased controls on the movement of people and goods; impediments to construction and infrastructure investment; confiscation of land and natural resources; and the direct destruction of homes, crops, livestock assets and infrastructure. Many are becoming dependent on external aid — unable to produce food or earn incomes.
High dependency on imported food (80–90 percent for most staple commodities), increased international food prices and vulnerability to drought have exacerbated the plight of Palestinians to provide for their families. With plummeting incomes, households are forced to engage in informal trade and piecemeal agricultural work, assume debt, sell assets and decrease consumption, which render them increasingly vulnerable. Further complicating the situation, the population growth rate is 3 percent and over 40 percent of the population is under 15 years old. The combination of high unemployment, rapid population growth and low levels of female participation in the labour force significantly increases the economic burden on primary wage earners.
Small-scale farmers, herders and fishers in the WBGS are among the hardest hit population, despite the potential of agriculture to reduce reliance on imported food, minimize vulnerability to international price hikes and increase economic access to food by enhancing employment and income. The significant loss of Palestinian land, limited access to markets, destruction of key agricultural assets (including water resources), and the separation of farmers from their fields and fishers from the sea continue to sever the rural poor from their livelihood.
In order to mitigate the impact of the crisis, it is vital to assist families to maximize and safeguard the use of their remaining assets and resources and to expand their livelihood opportunities. Helping farmers to replenish their asset base and improve their agricultural practices will increase not only household food production and income, but also their chances of retaining access to their land.
Optimizing the use of natural resources, with a particular focus on water scarcity, is necessary to mitigate the impact of natural hazards, increase resilience to shocks and preserve productive capacity for future generations. Focus must also lie in stimulating the potential of the WBGS’ youth to build a vibrant productive civil society, and in actively empowering women as agents of development in their homes and communities.
The WBGS Plan of Action (PoA) 2011–2013 is a ‘living’ document that sets forth the approach and methodology of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to maximize, and expand the impact of, efforts to improve food security in a sustainable way. The PoA represents a shift in strategy from predominantly relief-driven project interventions to a more programmatic approach, based on disaster risk management, which balances emergency response (36 percent) with enhancing local capacity for preparedness (27 percent) and transition to development (37 percent).
Achieving this humanitarian imperative hinges on four individual areas of action, or PoA programme components, that will assist directly 30 000 poor rural households (i.e. 195 000 people): (i) improved household-level food production, (ii) strengthened income and purchasing power; (iii) higher levels of domestic food quality and nutrition; and (iv) more adequate food safety.