How WFP Brought Food and Hope to Gaza’s Battered Communities
11 Nov 2014
A violent summer in Gaza left thousands of its residents homeless and in shelters. The two-month conflict destroyed homes, businesses and basic services. But one thing was working – WFP food distribution, the landmark vouchers and the e-card programme, which was launched in Palestine five years ago as a first in the Middle East.
GAZA, Palestine – As bombs exploded across densely populated Gaza, Senior Programme Assistant Amir Yasin worked marathon hours to ensure terrified civilians could eat.
"Most families fled their houses in a rush and didn't manage to bring anything," Amir said, recalling the heavy shelling of July and August.
"From the onset of the emergency, we were prepared to scale up the voucher programme," he said. "We kept a large contingency stock of more than 10,000 vouchers in our office and distributed new cards to displaced families daily."
The humanitarian situation deteriorated rapidly during the 50 days of hostilities. At the height of the conflict, more than half-a-million people – roughly 30 percent of Gaza's population – were internally displaced.
In response to the mounting needs, our staff provided emergency food assistance and expanded ties with humanitarian partners on the ground. Together with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), staff provided daily, ready-to-eat food rations to displaced people in UNRWA schools, reaching more than 340,000 at the height of the conflict.
WFP joined forces with UNICEF in a voucher partnership so displaced people could buy locally produced food, safe drinking water and sanitary products. Through these "e-vouchers", which operate like debit cards, our staff not only ensured delivery of emergency assistance, but could programme the new cards remotely and rapidly reload them.
"People really appreciated the expansion of the programme through the partnership with UNICEF," Amir said. "Access to food was essential but the needs were also high for things like bottled water, soap and diapers."
At the time, Country Director Pablo Recalde described the work as "a great example of cooperation between humanitarian partners, building on the areas of expertise of both WFP and UNICEF, which ensures families have enough to eat, drink and resume their lives while supporting the local economy."
There were other challenges. Roughly a dozen shops taking part in the voucher programme were forced to close because of heavy bombing. Ahmed Harara's home and store in the Shujaiya suburb were completely destroyed. Ahmed found a vacant space in Gaza City. Within days his store was up and running, and he had requested a new voucher terminal.
"The shop is much smaller than my original one, but it is the only way to provide a source of income for my family," said Ahmed.
Altogether, some 84,000 displaced people living with host families received vouchers during the conflict, half of them were children. With a ceasefire in place as of late August, and with schools re-opening in September, WFP expanded its partnership with UNICEF to distribute one-off vouchers worth some US$150 per family.
"We now work with 90 shops to ensure continuous geographical coverage," added Amir.