By Fares Akram – Gaza City
Hundreds of Palestinians have demonstrated against cuts to a United Nations food programme, as protest leaders said they would boost their efforts to restore food assistance to local families.
Protesters gathered outside the metal gate of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offices in Gaza City on Sunday, banging pots and pans and raising banners against the cuts.
UNRWA provides food, education and other basic services to Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territories, and in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
In recent months, the organisation has reduced the number of families in Gaza receiving urgent food assistance by about 65 percent, Shukri al-Arouqi, a representative of the refugees’ popular committees in the central Gaza Strip, told Al Jazeera.
The protesters also expressed anger at UNRWA’s poverty survey, which reviews the status of food aid recipients and decides whether to keep or remove them from the list of beneficiaries.
“The budget for the survey programme is about $16m a year… Why don’t they use that money for more [food] coupons instead?” al-Arouqi said.
More than 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza receive UNRWA food assistance, including food baskets of flour, rice, sugar, sunflower oil and other items. According to a 2012 UNRWA survey, 57 percent of households in Gaza, or approximately 1.04 million people, are considered food insecure.
Adnan Abu Hassna, a spokesman for UNRWA in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that 34,000 families were removed from the food programme. He said that the cuts were applied to achieve “justice and fairness” in distribution.
“In the coming two months, we will add more families to the beneficiaries’ lists because tunnel workers, construction workers and more sectors of people lost their jobs,” said Abu Hassna, referring to the closure of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
UNRWA faces a funding deficit of $65m this year. In its 2014 emergency appeal, the organisation stated that it needed more than $300m to keep all its programmes running. Last year, UNRWA cut emergency cash assistance for some 11,000 families in the Gaza Strip.
UNRWA has registered approximately 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza as refugees, out of the 1.7 million total inhabitants of the coastal enclave.
(Al Jazeera – www.aljazeera.com)