GAZA: NEW ASSESSMENT INDICATES NO CHANGE IN FOOD INSECURITY DUE TO THE HOSTILITIES
The destruction of agricultural assets resulted in reduced resilience
Following the end of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, the Food Security Sector for the oPt conducted a rapid qualitative assessment to determine the conflict’s impact on the food security situation in Gaza.6 The assessment analyzed the production, availability, and accessibility of food during and in the aftermath of the conflict.7 Food security exists within a society when people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Prior to the conflict it has been estimated that 44 per cent of households in Gaza were affected by food insecurity, and a further 16 per cent were considered vulnerable to food insecurity.8 Whilst the situation has not changed significantly as a result of the recent hostilities, the assessment did suggest that certain segments of the population, who have lost an income source as a result of the violence, may require longer-term food assistance support. The assessment also indicated that while food consumption patterns have not been significantly altered as a result of the conflict, the resilience and capacity of many Palestinians have been eroded.
Food availability – including wholesale markets, retail local production and humanitarian aid - was not appreciably impacted by the hostilities. Modest shortages of some fresh foods, including vegetables and dairy products, arose during the eight-day escalation, but food commodity supplies have returned to pre-existing levels with no reported shortages or price distortion. Main staple food supplies in stores remain at two to four week levels, with shopkeepers and consumers reporting steady prices before, during and after the hostilities. Consumer demand, too, has resumed to pre-existing levels.
However, seven per cent of the winter-cultivated area (or 3,033 dunums) of the Gaza Strip sustained damage during the period of hostilities, according to a Ministry of Agriculture assessment. 9 This affected more than 800 farmers and 1,700 other workers, with crop farmers sustaining the most direct impact. Citrus farmers experienced losses because of their inability to access orchards, and because of plummeting prices resulting from a market supply glut immediately after hostilities ended on 21 November.
Finally, the assessment also indicated that more than 74,000 poultry, out of an estimated population of 8 million, were lost because of the conflict. Poultry farmers reportedly incurred losses due to lack of fodder and inflated labor and transport costs during the conflict. Fishermen reported, in addition to eight days of lost work during the violence, increased fuel costs, which have impacted their profit margins.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE FUND ADDRESSES NEEDS RESULTING FROM THE GAZA HOSTILITIES
Four projects approved and 13 under consideration
During the latest round of violence in the Gaza Strip and Israel (14-21 November) and in its aftermath, the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) received funding requests for 17 separate projects addressing a range of urgent humanitarian needs triggered by the hostilities, for a total cost of over US$ 2.9 million (see table below). Of these projects, eight were submitted by national NGOs, three by international NGOs and four by UN agencies. By the end of 2012, four of the projects were approved and implementation was underway, and the remainder was under consideration.
The first proposal was submitted by UNDP while the hostilities were still ongoing and approved within six days. The project, worth US$ 250,000, covers the cost of the fuel needed to operate garbage collection vehicles for a period of three months, following severe disruptions in collection due to fuel shortages. Garbage collection resumed immediately after the approval of the project, averting the risk of an epidemic outbreak.
The ERF was proven to be a valuable emergency funding tool; applications were quickly processed and funding disbursed rapidly, to enable humanitarian partners to respond quickly and effectively to the humanitarian needs generated by the escalation in hostilities. The rapid nature of these processes also resulted in increased interest in the fund by local Palestinian NGOs and other partners, as evidenced in the increased number of downloads of the ERF applications form and inquiries to OCHA10.
The ERF in the oPt (formerly the HRF – Humanitarian Relief Fund) was created in August 2007 with the aim of providing an immediate response to unforeseen emergencies and filling funding gaps until mainstream humanitarian funding is available. It is one of 13 country-level funds currently administered by OCHA in different parts of the world.11 The policy and decision making powers of these funds lie with an Advisory Board, which is chaired by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) and includes representatives of all the fund donors, UN agencies, and national and international NGOs. The Advisory Board operates a Review Board, which is responsible for reviewing and approving all project proposals. During 2012, the oPt ERF approved 26 projects, costing over US$ 5.7 million. It is currently funded by Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.
ISRAELI OFFICIAL REPORT HIGHLIGHTS THE APPROVAL OF A LARGE NUMBER OF PROJECTS IN AREA C
An initial review indicates that only a minority of the approved projects target the needs of vulnerable communities in Area C
In September 2012, the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s COGAT (Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories) released a report providing an account of projects in Area C of the West Bank that it approved in 2011 and the first half of 2012. The majority of the approved projects were submitted by international organizations or with international funding and aimed to support Palestinian communities. The report does not refer to projects and other activities advanced during the reporting period, which targeted the Israeli settler population. The need for such an approval stems from Israel’s exclusive control over planning and zoning in Area C, which constitutes over 60 percent of the West Bank.
These approvals represent an important step towards meeting key infrastructure and developmental needs of many Palestinian localities throughout the West Bank. However, the projects themselves, while are located in Area C, benefit for the most part Palestinian communities in Areas A and B; the basic needs of Palestinian communities in Area C, particularly small herding communities who are among the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank, have remained unaddressed.
According to COGAT’s report, since 2011 the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) approved a total of 328 projects to be implemented (totally or partially) in Area C. A review of each project’s description indicates that 72 per cent of them (236 out of 328) involve some kind of construction or activity requiring a permit, and the project was approved during the reporting period. Of the rest, 57 are still under consideration (i.e. not yet approved), 28 do not involve construction, and six were approved previously, outside the reporting period.
Based on the limited information presented in the project descriptions included in the report, OCHA classified the remaining 236 projects according to the location of the communities that would benefit (as opposed to the location of the project itself). This review found the following: 102 projects target Palestinian communities located entirely or mostly in Areas A and B; 104 projects entail general infrastructure that would indistinctly benefit a whole geographical area (including Areas A, B and C). Only 19 of the projects target Palestinian communities that are located mostly (i.e. over half of their built up area) in Areas C. It was not possible to determine the location of beneficiaries of the remaining 11 projects.
The most common type of project benefiting a whole area or localities in Areas A and B was the installation of a cellular communication tower (57 projects), with each tower counted as one project. The second most common type of project was the rehabilitation or upgrading of roads (54 projects), typically the paving and/or widening of a secondary or tertiary road. Of note, in some cases the upgraded roads serve as alternatives to principal roads in the area that are now exclusively or primarily designated for use by Israelis. Other projects listed in the report include the expansion of electricity lines; construction of water infrastructure, including connections (or upgrading of connections) to the water network; construction of waste water infrastructure; renovation/expansion of existing schools; and land rehabilitation projects involving irrigation systems.
Of the 19 projects targeting communities located entirely or mostly in Area C, eight involve renovations of health clinics or schools, three connections to the electricity network, two connections to the water or sewage network, five road repairs, and one land rehabilitation. Overall, these projects benefit a total of 13 communities, with some benefiting from two-three projects.
In the community of Al Buweib (Hebron), for example, the ICA approved the addition of eight classrooms to the local, greatly overcrowded school, as well as the renovation of the community’s health clinic and the addition of a testing lab. In Al Jiftlik, in the central section of the Jordan Valley, the ICA approved the repair of an internal road, and the expansion of the electricity network to allow the connection of 27 households; these households have been waiting since 2008 for connection to the network.
Of the 236 projects, only four are partially located within the boundaries of one of the local or regional councils of Israeli settlements. These areas, which encompass approximately 70 per cent of Area C, are largely off limits for Palestinian use and development.
The common characteristic among the 13 communities in Area C for whom projects have been approved is that they have a master plan (officially referred to as a ‘Special Partial Outline Plan’) that has been, or is about to be approved by the ICA. The most important element of these master plans is the line demarcating the boundaries of each community, within which physical development by the residents is allowed, or at least not prevented, by the ICA.
An OCHA/UNRWA survey from 2009-10 conducted among communities located entirely or mostly (i.e. more than half of their built up area) in Area C identified a total of 270 such communities, with a population of approximately 62,000. Of these 270 communities, only 42 (15 percent) have a valid master plan. It is difficult to determine the size of the population living within the area of these plans because the plans often cover only part of the built up areas. Typically, the existing master plans encircle the main built-up area of the communities, leaving little space for development. In total, the combined area of all these valid master plans is approximately 18,000 dunums, less than one percent of Area C. While over 20 new master plans are currently under consideration by the ICA, no new plan has been approved since 2011.
THE OLIVE HARVEST SEASON COMES TO AN END
Access constraints continued primarily in areas next to settlements and behind the Barrier
The 2012 olive harvest season concluded in December. The annual olive harvest is a key economic, social and cultural event for Palestinians. Nearly half (48 per cent) of the agricultural land in the oPt is planted with 8 million olive trees, the vast majority of which are in the West Bank. The olive oil industry makes up 14 per cent of the agricultural income for the oPt and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families. The Ministry of Agriculture is projecting a yield of 18,000 metric tonnes for this year’s harvest, compared to 14,290 metric tonnes in 2011.
In the West Bank, communities with olive groves located between the Barrier and the Green Line and in the vicinity of Israeli settlements continued to face challenges in maintaining and harvesting their olive crops, undermining their livelihoods and increasing their vulnerabilities. Since harvesting in the Gaza Strip had largely ended by the time the Israeli military offensive, ‘Pillar of Defence’ began, on 14 November, the Gaza season was not affected. Notably, the provisions of the 21 November ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas allowed for increased access to the agricultural areas near the fence with Israel. However, the olive groves which were previously prevalent in areas up to 1.5 km from the fence had largely been uprooted by the Israeli military in previous years.
Settlement-related restrictions and settler violence
In the West Bank, Palestinian farmers whose olive groves are located close to or within the environs of Israeli settlements and settlement outposts continued to face restrictions on their access during the harvest period, relating both to access restrictions imposed by the Israeli military and attacks by Israeli settlers.
As in previous years, the Israeli army deployed additional forces to protect farmers from settler violence and designated limited periods when, following ‘prior coordination’, farmers were permitted to access olive groves in the vicinity of some 55 settlements. These coordination arrangements related mostly to Palestinian land now encircled by settlement fences, and to areas where settler violence is recurrent. During the harvest period, the Protection Cluster undertook coordination of protective presence initiatives by humanitarian and human rights organizations (see box) aimed at supporting Palestinian access to olive groves.
Farmers in some areas of the West Bank reported that the time allocated to them through the prior-coordination system was insufficient to complete the harvest. Farmers also complained of being penalized for most of the year by restrictions on their access to their groves, undermining the maintenance and productivity of their holdings. Despite protective measures, settler violence also continued during the harvest period; OCHA recorded 53 settler attacks resulting in property damage or injuries, the same as during the olive harvest in 201112. In addition, while the prior-coordination system implemented in the past few years has reduced clashes and settler attacks on farmers while they are working, it has proven largely ineffective in preventing vandalism or theft of olive trees throughout the rest of the year. The lack of regular presence of farmers in their groves throughout the year facilitates acts of vandalism by Israeli settlers (see box on Al Mughayyir). During 2012, over 8,600 trees were reported burned, uprooted, or otherwise vandalized, including in areas adjacent to settlements at times when Palestinian access was restricted. While this figure is slightly lower than the figure for 2011, (approximately 9,500 trees damaged in 2011), consistent settler attacks on Palestinian olive groves over the years mean fewer trees to vandalize in areas located near to settlements.
Olive groves isolated by the Barrier
Access for owners of olive groves located in the land behind the Barrier is dependent on obtaining a special permit from, or performing ‘prior coordination’ with, the Israeli authorities. Despite the increase in the number of permits issued during the olive harvest, that was announced in advance by the Israeli authorities, many applications were rejected, mainly due to ‘security reasons’ or on the grounds of insufficient proof of ‘connection to the land.’ In the northern West Bank,13 the approval rate for permit applications was approximately 48 percent, equivalent to 2011, but still significantly below 2010 when the permit approval rate was over 80 per cent. In the Ramallah area, where 12 of the 18 gates enabling farmers to pass through the Barrier operate on a permit system, the approval rate was significantly higher than in the north, at 79 percent. Notably, farmers in Deir Qaddis received permits to access their land for the first time since the completion of the Barrier in 2008. In Hebron, seven of the eight Barrier gates operated, and the approval rate was 87 per cent; approximately 1,000 of the 1,150 applicants were granted permits. In the Bethlehem governorate, three of four gates in the Barrier were opened using the ‘prior coordination’ system, with approximately 250 farmers able to access their land without incident. Marking a change over recent years, landowners in the Wadi Shami area of Bethlehem were granted access to their land within the Jerusalem municipal boundary.
For farmers granted access by permit or prior coordination to their groves behind the Barrier, passage is still restricted by Barrier gates and checkpoints. Most of the crossings along the Barrier are only open during the olive harvest period, and each only for a limited timeframe during this period; access for the remainder of the year is prohibited. In total, as of this year’s olive harvest, there were 78 Barrier crossings - 70 gates and 8 checkpoints. Of the gates, only 9 open daily; 10 open for some day(s) during the week and during the olive season and 51 open during the olive season only. Data collected by OCHA in the northern West Bank over the last four years shows a decrease of approximately 60 percent in the yield of olive trees in the Seam Zone, compared to their equivalents on the ‘Palestinian’ side of the Barrier, where essential activities such as ploughing, pruning, fertilizing and pest and weed management can be carried out on a regular basis.