Food vouchers provide a lifeline for Gaza's families who have lost everything
Alun McDonald Media and Communications Coordinator for OPTI
10th Oct 2014
On 12 October world leaders will be meeting in Egypt to discuss the reconstruction of Gaza following the conflict there this summer. The international conference, which will be chaired by both Egypt and Norway, aims to boost funding for the region which has had much of its vital infrastructure destroyed. Alun McDonald shares how Oxfam is distributing food vouchers which are helping vulnerable families.
It took several years for Ahmed Bihar to build a home and a shop for his family. Then, in just the blink of an eye, it was bombed into rubble.
Ahmad, 35, used to work in Gaza's once-thriving construction industry. Then in 2007 the Israeli blockade was imposed on Gaza and since then the import of construction materials has been severely restricted. Materials kept coming through tunnels from Egypt, but last year these too were closed down. Tens of thousands of construction workers lost their jobs. "Most construction projects have stopped," says Ahmad. "The closure of the borders and the tunnels meant the price of materials skyrocketed, and I was left without work."
Ahmad opened a shop in his neighbourhood of Shujaiya in eastern Gaza, from which he supported his wife and sons. Then during this summer's 50 days of war, Shujaiya was heavily bombed and everything he owned was destroyed.
"Now I have no home, no shop, no job. I lost my dream and I can't afford to rebuild it."
Without an income, Ahmad is struggling to provide for his family. Many of Shujaiya's schools, health clinics and water and sanitation systems have also been bombed, and his neighbourhood is virtually uninhabitable. More than 100,000 people in Gaza are still homeless, and hundreds of shops and businesses were destroyed.
Since the start of the war, Oxfam and partners have been distributing emergency food vouchers to 50,000 families like Ahmad's. The vouchers - funded by the World Food Programme - are topped up monthly onto debit cards that can be redeemed at dozens of shops and markets across Gaza. The vouchers enable families who have lost their livelihoods to buy essential goods, and they also help the local economy by providing custom to shopkeepers whose businesses were affected by the war.
"The Oxfam vouchers help us buy essential food. It helps us decrease our expenditure on food, so we can spend the little money we have on other expenses like clothes, cleaning products and transport for our children to get to school," says Ahmad, who dreams of one day rebuilding his home and his shop. "I just hope they can keep helping us until we are able to get back to our normal life."
Aid is urgently needed to help people across Gaza recover from the devastation, but the ongoing blockade makes the huge task of reconstruction even more difficult. Under the current restrictions it could take decades to import the materials necessary to rebuild homes, shops, schools and hospitals. Families like Ahmad's need aid, but they also need an end to the blockade so that they rebuild their lives and their livelihoods.
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Header image: A recipient of Oxfam food vouchers at a local store in Gaza. Photo: Iyad Al Baba/Oxfam