Almost 20 meters from his home on the main al-Mansoura Street in al-Shuja’iyya in eastern Gaza, Ameen Qaddoum, 50, sits by his cart all day and sells coffee, tea, and other hot beverages to passers-by. He’s parked in a residential neighborhood, so people in the area are already near their homes and don’t have much need for Ameen’s cart. When he leaves for a short break, one of his teenage sons takes his place. It’s around 6 p.m., and he’s made 7 shekels (2 dollars) from a full day’s work. Ameen needs three days’ worth of income to buy a chicken for his family of 8 people.
Ameen used to work as a porter, but he has been unemployed for over 17 years. He is responsible for a large family of six children, but only two of them can stay in school because of their dire economic circumstances. His eldest son Salama, now 17, left school years ago.
Most families in Gaza are in a similar situation to Ameen’s. Many of them receive food aid as they are unable to provide their families with enough to survive, and have been evaluated by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) for eligibility for food aid. According to the WFP64% of Gaza residents suffer from food insecurity. If they pass scrutiny, they are added to a list that allows them to use a supermarket card, which allots each family member $10.30 a month.
This month, however, the WFP announced that 200,000 people who receive food aid in Palestine “will no longer be receiving food assistance due to a severe funding shortage.” This development is nothing short of devastating for thousands of families in Gaza who have no other consistent food source.
“This card gives me hope that I can get something for my family to eat, it’s a small amount, but surely better than nothing,” Ameen said. “Every time we think that there might be some hope for us, we are left to starve. But I would not have to fight for my food if we were not under occupation.”
For a family like Ameen’s, it’s almost enough to buy a few basic needs, like cooking oil, rice, beans and lentils, canned foods, frozen vegetables, and a few other things they can get from the closest supermarket. But on May 29, Ameen received a text message from the WFP telling him that his monthly aid would be temporarily suspended starting next month.
‘It means life for us’
The WFP has reported that 53% of the Gaza population lives under the poverty line, and for most of those families, food is the main resource that is hard to come by. According to the WFPtwo out of three people in Gaza struggle to meet their meals.
When the end of the month rolls in, Ameen’s fridge is usually empty, as he waits for the start of the next month so that he can replenish his stock. This time he will be waiting indefinitely.
Whispering while looking over his shoulder, as if afraid that someone might hear him, he says: “We only have zaatar and the old man to eat.” Zaatara dry spice and herb mixture of ground thyme leaves, is often eaten with bread, while the old man is a similar mix for which Gaza is most well known, primarily made up of crushed wheat and mixed with spices like zaatar, but cheaper.
“We depend on this aid to live and to survive. This is not how we want to live. Give me any job in Gaza, and I will go to it without a second thought, but where should I go to secure food for my family?” he tells breaking news.
According to the WFP office in Gaza, 8,000 families received messages of temporary suspension. The office in Gaza did not release any further details, except that cutting off these families in Gaza directly results from the shortage of funds faced by the WFP.
The families impacted by this suspension are the poorest of the poor in Gaza and largely have no other source of income. Neither is this the first time that the WFP has suspended food aid for families in Gaza — but when it happened in the past, they would compensate families for the months in which they went without aid. Things aren’t so certain this time.
In the same area in al-Shuja’iyya, a supermarket owner guides me to seven families in a small area whose aid was also suspended. Most of these families have over six members, mostly children.
Eman Naji, 51, is a mother of six, one of whom is disabled. Her husband, Mohammed, 53, is unemployed. They also received the same dreaded message from the WFP.
“No one gives us anything, and there is no job for any of my family members, they are kids. This aid means life to us. Otherwise, we are going to starve,” she says, sitting with three kids on her lap on the steps of her house in al-Shuja’iyya.
“It’s hard and painful to live in such conditions of food insecurity,” she continues. “Sometimes we receive food, and sometimes we do not. What should we do in the months in which we will not receive aid? What can we feed our kids during this period? No one else will support us, we are alone.”
“But God will not forget us.”
Damage to local businesses
A full 80% of the Gaza population depends on humanitarian aid, according to the UN. The families that the WFP supports receive a total collective amount of 3 million dollars in coordination with 300 supermarkets in the Gaza Strip.
“Families in this area depend on the WFP aid. They get everything they need from the supermarket, and the WFP pays for them. Some families distribute their aid during the month and take goods every week in debt until their card is recharged,” says Mohammed Ziad, a supermarket owner in al-Shuja’iyya.
With the WFP shortage, these supermarkets will also be negatively impacted by the inability of people to pay for their goods.
“I have over 10 families who were suspended this month, and all of them asked me to give them their food in debt until the WFP supports them again with their aid,” Mohammed says. “I have no choice but to give them what they need. They are my customers, and I must support them in these conditions. But this will badly impact my supermarket, as I will be not able to get new goods.”