Gazans desperate for food after UN cuts food assistance

Hundreds of women and children protested cutbacks in a United Nations food-assistance program on Wednesday, the latest in a growing backlash by Palestinian refugees and their offspring in this forlorn coastal strip against the agency that for decades has provided them with nutrition, education and health services.

“People are getting poorer, and the agency’s directors nurture bellies,” they chanted outside the locked gates of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. “We are under siege!”

830,000 people in Gaza — almost half the population — receive rations of flour, oil, sugar, rice and other staples every three months.

Six months before the changes, the agency canceled a cash-assistance program that provided 21,000 families with $4 million per year — $10 per person every three months. That cut prompted days of violent protests that led the agency to suspend its food-assistance program entirely for five days.

Many Gazans are already suffering financially from Egypt’s shutdown of hundreds of smuggling tunnels under its border with Gaza. Those tunnels have for years been a pipeline for cheap fuel, consumer goods and construction materials, and without them, thousands of Gazans have been out of work and facing higher prices for products imported from Israel.

A United Nations report published in August found that a third of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were “food insecure” in 2012, a significant increase from the previous year.

Nabil Atallah, a leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the political faction that organized Wednesday’s demonstration, said the United Nations agency should restore cash assistance to 1,500 of Gaza’s poorest families.
One of the protesters, Jamila Abdullah, 55, said she had received a text message from the agency 10 days ago announcing that her two jobless sons would no longer receive food coupons. Ms. Abdullah said agency officials told her the family had been cut off because it raised chickens and ducks near its house in Beit Hanoun, a town in northeast Gaza. “Why should we not raise poultry?” she asked.
Another demonstrator, Ahmed Rajab, 57, said his food assistance was cut off in 2006, when he was working in Israel and the agency determined he no longer needed the aid. But shortly afterward, Mr. Rajab said, “I lost my job, and I haven’t been restored my coupons.”

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