Gaza's harvest is at risk
Alun McDonald Media and Communications Coordinator for OPTI
6th Aug 2014
Alun McDonald, media and communications coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, takes us through the impact of the past month on Gaza's farmers, shortages in markets, high prices, and concerns for the next planting season.
In many markets, fresh food and vegetables are scarce. Cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are now two or even three times more expensive than before the military escalation. It's hard to grow and transport food when it's too dangerous to move around.
"We are expecting to see a sharp rise in malnutrition."
"There are huge shortages of fresh food in the markets. 90 percent of Gaza's agricultural land and greenhouses have been completely inaccessible and many have been destroyed," says Ahmed Sourani, an Oxfam programme manager in Gaza. "Just a few gardens in homes and cities are still running, but these cannot even come close to meeting the needs of Gaza's 1.8 million people. We are expecting to see a sharp rise in malnutrition."
Most crucially, the current escalation has come during the annual planting season.
"The season when farmers can plant ends in September. If there is not a lasting ceasefire and people cannot plant before then, it will have a devastating impact on the harvests for the next year," says Elena Qleibo, Oxfam's Food Security and Livelihoods Coordinator. Even with a ceasefire there will be difficulties: "Many fields are now littered with explosives and shells and impossible to use."
The massive destruction of Gaza's infrastructure has had a terrible toll on people's ability to feed their families.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that tens of millions of dollars worth of damage to agricultural, livestock and fishing infrastructure has been caused so far by the Israeli strikes. Many shops have also been damaged.
Jamil Abu Eita opened a small dairy factory in 2005, producing cheese, milk and other produce. Oxfam has been supporting his business to improve the quality of goods and link him up with local markets, helping him to increase his profits. But his factory was hit in a recent Israeli airstrike.
"The factory was badly damaged. I want to go back and check how badly but the area is too dangerous," he says. "Me, my family and 12 staff used to work in the factory - it will have a huge impact on all of us."
The bombing of Gaza's only power plant has left many areas with just two hours of electricity a day. Without electricity, Gaza's bakeries and millers are struggling to keep going. Half of the bakeries have closed. At least 60 fishing boats have been destroyed by airstrikes and Gaza's markets have been empty of fish for days. Irrigation networks and water wells have also been damaged, and at least 2000 animals killed. Dead carcasses of animals remain in farms and roads, posing enormous health risks.
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Oxfam is providing food vouchers and food packages to 27,000 people who have fled their homes in recent weeks. The vouchers help people buy food from local shops - keeping businesses afloat at this extremely difficult time. More than 200,000 displaced people are now in urgent need of food aid.
The current crisis is the latest challenge for farmers and food producers who have suffered for years under the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The blockade has banned Gaza's farmers and producers like Abu Eita from exporting their produce to other Palestinian markets in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Up to a third of Gaza's most fertile farmland is out of bounds to farmers, who are frequently shot at by the Israeli army if they try to work there.
The blockade punishes farmers and other civilians and prevents them from making a living. If they are to recover in time to plant their crops they need the current ceasefire to become permanent - but they also need an end to the blockade.
Header Image: The agricultural sector in Gaza has been severely affected by the ongoing conflict. Credit: Mohammed Ali