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  • Palestinian man Anwar Aziza, 32, an unemployed father, shops in a supermarket in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip December 17, 2018.

    Palestinian man Anwar Aziza, 32, an unemployed father, shops in a supermarket in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip December 17, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 December 2018

The World Food Pogram's director in Palestine explained that Gaza's underlying problems would remain as long as Israel maintained its blockade.

The United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) has announced dramatic cuts in aid to Gaza and the West Bank by Jan. 1, affecting about 193,000 Palestinians, after the U.S. decided to stop funding assistance programs in Palestine.

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The aid for about 27,000 people in the West Bank “will be completely interrupted and about 166,000 in Gaza and the West Bank will receive 80 percent of the subsidy (eight dollars out of 10 they used to receive),” declared Raphael du Boispean, PMA’s spokesperson.

Du Boispean explained that the crisis is a result of the “recurrent problem” of declining donations.

"WFP has been forced, unfortunately, to make drastic cuts to the number of people that we support across Palestine, both in Gaza and the West Bank," Stephen Kearney, WFP country director in the Palestinian Territories, told Reuters.

He said the agency was making the cutbacks "mainly because the amount of funding that we are receiving is dropping drastically.

"It's not just WFP, it's across the whole humanitarian community as donor contributions significantly fall," Kearney said, blaming the shortfall on cuts by the United States, WFP's biggest contributor, and other countries in aid to Palestinians.

"The major donor that we have had in the past years has been the U.S. They have cut funding, not just to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, who work with the refugees in Gaza, but also to the rest of the humanitarian community, including WFP," he said.

The U.S. cuts affected 40 per cent of total WFP funding.

Palestinians work in a dairy factory in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip December 17, 2018. Photo | Reuters

According to a WFP’s statement published on Wednesday, the agency needs another US$57 million to continue providing its services for 360,000 low-income Palestinians in 2019.

"The people that we do reach are the most vulnerable across Palestine, and we appreciate that we are going to put further anxiety on these families," Kearney told Reuters.

Kearney said Gaza's underlying problems would remain as long as Israel maintained its blockade and Palestinian factional infighting continued, preventing a political solution.

In Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the ruling Hamas group, urged the United Nations to "continue to provide the needs of the Palestinian people until they regain their freedom."

Most of the help provided by WFP is through electronic cards, which people use to buy food at a network of 185 shops.

Palestinians and humanitarian workers fear the cuts will cause a downward spiral, as people buy less from businesses, and they in turn purchase less from suppliers.

In the Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, shopkeeper Mohammad Al-Dirawi said he had gained about 400 new customers since he joined the program and employed three new workers.

"We depend 90 per cent on the work with the WFP," he said.  

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"God forbid, if it stops, we may not be able to continue in the supermarket."

Aref Abdel-Jawwad, owner of a dairy in Deir Al-Balah, said he sells 50 to 70 per cent of his products to WFP-approved shops. He fears he will have to cut the hours of his employees, each earning around $300 per month.

Mustafa Kassiha, a dairy farmer in Rafah, said Abdel-Jawwad's dairy buys all his milk.

"This is our only income. There is no alternative to it," he said.

In early 2018, President Donald Trump announced his administration would severely reduce fundings for the UNRWA and the USAID programs in Palestinian territories.

After the UNRWA urged donor countries to relieve the lack of aid funds, the organization was able to obtain $120 million from the European Union, Kuwait, Ireland, Norway and France.

USAID announced in November it will cut its staff by half in the West Bank and Gaza and that the programs will be completely shut down by early 2019.

Israeli defense officials have warned about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza if both the UNRWA and USAID suspend activities in the occupied territories.

The WFP was founded in 1962 to reduce hunger and poverty, but it mainly depend on voluntary fundings by the U.N. member States, which have been reducing donations for programs located in Palestine.

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