One fifth of Palestinian children 'are chronically hungry'

By Justin Huggler in Jerusalem

27 July 2002

The Israeli re-occupation of West Bank towns is on the

verge of causing a humanitarian crisis among

Palestinians, diplomats and aid agencies are warning.

As many as a fifth of Palestinian children are

suffering acute malnutrition, according to the

preliminary results of a new survey by an American aid


Seventy per cent of Palestinians now live on less than

$2 (1.30) a day, according to a new figure that is

being circulated in Israel.

So pressing is the concern that fears of a

humanitarian crisis were raised at the last meeting of

the so-called Middle East quartet of the US, Russia,

the United Nations and the European Union.

The US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, told the

Israeli authorities this week that the situation in

the occupied territories was "a humanitarian


Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, is so

concerned that he recently telephoned the UN

secretary- general, Kofi Annan, and asked him to do

something to alleviate the situation.

Israeli officials are concerned about the effect a

series of forthcoming reports on the humanitarian

situation could have for Israel's image.

The preliminary results of the first report, by the US

Agency for International Development (USAID) are

already being widely discussed here, though they have

not been officially released. A Palestinian website

has published some of the details.

The findings say 30 per cent of children under five

suffer from chronic malnutrition and 21 per cent from

acute malnutrition ? a massive increase compared to a

survey for the same agency in 2000 when the figures

were 7.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.

The agency says 30 per cent of the 3.5 million

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

now rely on aid organisations for their daily food,

and the number is increasing rapidly. They say there

is a growing risk of an outbreak of a serious disease

such as cholera.

The preliminary results are based on a survey of about

300 Palestinian households. The final findings will be

based on 1,000 households, and the figures are thought

to be lower, but still a drastic increase on the

situation before the intifada began.

The United Nations mission here is one of several

organisations about to publish its own report, and it

is expected to be equally damning.

The Israeli authorities have moved to pre-empt

criticism by rushing through a series of measures to

alleviate the situation. They are reissuing work

permits to Palestinians to cross from the West Bank

and Gaza Strip and work in Israel.

The Israelis had withheld about $600m of tax revenues

from the Palestinian Authority, saying they would be

used to fund militants.

This week they started to release some of the money,

and Mr Sharon quietly dropped his insistence on a US

team monitoring how the money was spent. The Israelis

are also talking about withdrawing from Bethlehem and

Hebron. The United Nations agency for refugees in the

occupied territories, UNRWA, says it now feeds 217,000

families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, compared to

only 11,000 before the outbreak of the intifada.

The Palestinian economy is in ruins after months of

closures and blockades by the Israeli authorities who

say they are the only way to stop militants from

getting into Israel to stage attacks.

Palestinian workers have been prevented from

travelling from the West Bank or Gaza Strip to Israel;

Palestinian farmers and manufacturers have been unable

to get their produce to shops in Israel.

In the past couple of months the situation has

deteriorated drastically, with the Israeli army

reoccupying Palestinian towns in the West Bank and

placing them under 24-hour curfew, meaning

Palestinians cannot work or send their children to


Although some reports says as many as 70 per cent of

Palestinians now live on less than $2 a day, the World

Bank, to which the figure has been wrongly attributed,

says its worst case scenario is 62 per cent. One aid

worker said: "This is not like living on $2 a day in a

Third World economy in Africa. These people have to

pay Israeli prices.

"The closures and curfews have been going on for some

time now, and people have exhausted the money they can

draw on from relatives and connections outside." 


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