Rome, 15 April 2002 - Hunger and
malnutrition are on the rise among Palestinians living in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) warned today in a special alert.
"The total blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has
paralyzed the Palestinian economy, which is so vulnerably
dependent on Israel and already severely weakened by frequent
border closures, to such an extent that it is now in a deep
recession, with millions of people severely impoverished and
extremely food insecure."
According to the alert, malnutrition is on the
increase, reflected in recent estimates of a 10.4 percent
increase in the incidence of low birth weights and a 52 percent
increase in the still birth rate in the West Bank. Citing
humanitarian agencies operating in the territories, the FAO
alert says that many homes are now without water and
electricity, and what little food they have is rotting.
The UN food agency voiced "serious
concern" about the on-going large-scale destruction of
important Palestinian infrastructure, including farm assets such
as stores, irrigation systems, greenhouses, water facilities,
orchards, and even removal of topsoil from an estimated 8,000
hectares of land.
FAO says that by
"severely restricting Palestinian access to
international markets, Israel has become virtually the sole
supplier of food to the West Bank and Gaza Strip"
accounting for more than 95 percent of Gaza's total
agricultural imports and almost 100 percent of its exports. The
result, says the FAO alert, "is that border closures
have extreme consequences for the food security of the
The alert also
voices concern over confiscation of agricultural land and water
resources by Israel and estimates that freshwater resources
available to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip amounts to 112
cubic metres per person a year, compared to 377 cubic metres for
FAO said that it has had plans
since November 2001 to field a mission to the territories to
assess the food and nutrition situation but this has not been
possible due to the prevailing adverse security conditions.
"Nevertheless," said FAO, "all
available information points to a major catastrophe underway in
the West Bank and Gaza Strip."