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18 November 2002
Press Release No. HQ/G/24/2002

18 November 2002


UN plans largest ever food aid programme for Palestinians

GENEVA - The UN's main relief agency for the Middle East is planning the region's biggest ever food aid programme in order to stop the advance of malnutrition in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is planning to distribute food parcels to 222,000 families, or around 1.3 million people, in the occupied Palestinian territory during the first half of 2003. In contrast, before the start of the current strife UNRWA was feeding just 11,000 families in the territories.

With the support of the international community, UNRWA plans next year to provide milk powder, chickpeas and iron-fortified flour to families whose children are beginning to show signs of the stunting and wasting that accompanies micronutrient malnutrition. UNRWA has been supplying food parcels to families impoverished by the strife in Gaza and the West Bank for almost two years, but has been forced to increase the size and nutritional value of its food parcels planned for 2003 because of growing signs of malnutrition in the population.

An ongoing study funded by the United States Agency for International Development has found that four out of five Palestinian children have inadequate iron and zinc intake, deficiencies that cause anemia and weaken the immune system. Over half the children in Gaza and the West Bank have inadequate caloric and vitamin A intake. Half of Palestinian children have inadequate folate intake.

Peter Hansen, UNRWA's Commissioner-General, said "Recent reports show that about 22 per cent of Palestinian children are suffering from acute or chronic malnutrition. They are suffering for purely man-made reasons. No drought has hit Gaza and the West Bank, no crops have failed and the shops are often full of food. But the failure of the peace process and the destruction of the Palestinian economy by Israel's closures policy have had the effect of a terrible natural disaster."

Nursing and pregnant mothers too are suffering. On average they consume 15-20 per cent fewer calories per day than they did before the outbreak of strife in 2000. The consequent anemia, low folate intake and lack of proteins threaten both their health and the normal development of their children.

UNRWA's food aid programme for Palestine refugees will depend on an increased commitment to by the international community. UNRWA relies on voluntary donations to its emergency appeals and will require donations of around $35 million to cover its food aid plans for the first six months of 2003. An international appeal for funds and in-kind donations of high-protein foods will be launched in December.


For more information contact:

    In Geneva
    Rene Aquerone
In Gaza
Paul McCann
+972-8-677-7526 or +972-59-428-008

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