Families Down to a Meal a Day
to a Meal a Day
By Erin Cunningham
Inter Press Service
May 13, 2009
Um Abdullah cannot remember the last time she was able to feed meat
to her eight children. She does know that for the past week the
single meal she cooked for them each day consisted only of lentils.
And that on one day, she had received aid coupons from the United
Nations, which she subsequently sold to buy tomatoes and eggplant
at the local market.
Um Abdullah is a 42-year-old dressmaker and hails from Jabaliya, a
cramped refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. Stories like
hers are commonplace across the Gaza Strip, where years of
sanctions, siege and now war have battered the territory's economy
and put many essentials out of reach for the majority of the
"We live day to day, nothing more," says Um Abdullah, who made less
than three dollars in profit over the last three days. "If we can
eat once a day, that is good enough for us."
While the prices of food and other goods have cooled off from the
record highs they hit during Israel's three-week assault, the World
Food Programme (WFP) reports that a number of items, many of them
basic, remain more expensive for Gaza's residents than they were
before Operation Cast Lead.
Sugar, rice, onion, cucumber, tomato, lemon, pepper, chicken, meat,
fish and garlic were all more expensive for Gaza's residents in
March 2009 than they were in December 2008, the WFP says.
The price of pepper per kilogram doubled, while the cost of onions
jumped 33 percent. Fresh chicken is now 43 percent more expensive
than before the war, a result of the destruction of a number of
poultry farms across Gaza throughout the assault.
The decimation of wide swathes of agricultural land, as well as
cattle and sheep farms, has added to Gaza's growing food
But the war only intensified an already dire humanitarian
situation, economists say, which has its roots in Israel's economic
siege that hermetically sealed Gaza's borders in June 2007.
The shortage of all but "essential" goods and a flow of only a
trickle of fuel have sent prices of food and other products
skyrocketing over the past two years, making them unaffordable to
many households in the Gaza Strip.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the food
portion of Gaza's consumer price index (CPI) - an economic
indicator used to measure the average price of goods and services
purchased by households - rose 28 percent in 2008.
In Israel, by comparison, the CPI's food segment increased by less
than 5 percent from March 2008 to March 2009, Israel's Central
Bureau of Statistics reports.
"A negative economic growth rate coupled with an extreme shortage
of goods is causing what we call stagflation in Gaza and that is
what is behind the high prices," says Dr. Ibrahim Hantash of the
Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.
"The rampant smuggling also sends prices of basic goods through the
roof, because there is no control. It's all black market."
After the war, the majority of Gazans are now living below the
income poverty line, says the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP). It defines the line as a family of six subsisting on 500
dollars per month.
More than half of those families living below the poverty are
living in extreme hardship, on less than 250 dollars each month, or
approximately 1.35 dollars per person per day.
And because Gaza's households spend most of their dwindling monthly
income on food, the IMF says, 75 percent of the population has been
forced to reduce the quantity of food they buy, while 89 percent
reduced the quality.
This has meant many households, like Um Abdullah's, have had to
forego certain sources of protein, including meat and eggs.
"Gazans face an acute shortage of nutritious, locally-produced and
affordable food," says a report released by the WFP and the Food
and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in March.
Gazans have consequently reduced their daily calorie intake, mainly
by no longer eating items like red meat, rice, oils and fats, and
fruits and dairy products – leading to nutritional deficiencies
like anaemia, the report says.
Jalal Ataf Al-Masari has been running a fruit stand at the heart of
the crowded Beach refugee camp in Gaza City for ten years, and he
says he has never seen prices so high and business so low.
"At the beginning of the siege, it was only the poor that stopped
buying fruit," Al-Masari says. "Now, nobody buys fruit. Life has
become increasingly worse."
One kilo of bananas at Al-Masari's shop is six shekels, or 1.45
dollars. Apples, imported from Israel, are five shekels, or 1.20
dollars per kilo. Before the siege, Al-Masari says, you could buy
three kilos of apples for 10 shekels, or 2.42 dollars.
Now, not even pears, peaches or kiwis are available in the market.
Many of Gaza's "supermarkets" contain sparsely stocked shelves of
UN-distributed rice, EU-donated cooking oil, some canned goods and
plastic bags of flour, salt and lentils.
"I have been dealing with this siege for two years and I still
can't believe how expensive everything is," Al-Masari says. "It's
more expensive than America."
The WFP says Gaza's residents are resorting to certain "coping
mechanisms" to keep their families afloat, including selling
jewellery or property, buying food on credit, and borrowing from
friends and family.
Soha Kaloub, mother of eight and wife of a civil policeman whose
salary has been cut off by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in
Ramallah, says from her bare home in the Beach refugee camp that
they were forced to sell off all their furniture in order to buy
Kaloub cannot afford to fill her six-kilogram canister of cooking
gas, which would cost her about six dollars, so she uses a small
kerosene cooker left over from the era of the Ottoman rule in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries.
She uses it to cook beans or lentils, sometimes vegetables, for her
children. "For nine months, we haven't had meat or chicken. My
refrigerator is empty, our lives our empty," Kaloub says. "It
wasn't paradise before the siege, but it was better. At least we