UN agency says Gaza facing food crisis

By The Associated Press

Haaretz

Elul 5, 5766

The UN's World Food Program warned Monday that Gaza was facing a rapidly escalating crisis as a result of Israel's two-month-old offensive there.

"Industries which were once the backbone of Gaza's economy and food system ,such as the agriculture and fishing industries, are suffocated by the current situation and risk losing all viability," said Arnold Vercken, the local WFP director.

The crisis has left 70 percent of Gaza's population lacking food and forced the WFP to increase the number of Gazans receiving aid to 220,000 from 160,000 the WFP said. They include poor farmers, fishermen and others.

The Rome-based agency cautioned that the crisis in Lebanon should not result in Gaza being overlooked.

"In contrast to Lebanon, where humanitarian food aid needs have been essentially met, the growing number of poor in Gaza are living on the bare minimum and face a daily struggle to cover their daily food needs," the WFP said in a statement.

With power and water supplies low and unreliable, farmers forced to buy power and water to maintain their crops are increasing prices at a time when people can't afford it, the U.N. agency said.As a result, farmers are struggling to sell their produce and make ends meet.

Fishermen also are in dire straits - the industry paralyzed by a total closure of the Gaza coastline since June 25.

"WFP food assistance is acting as a band-aid in an attempt to prevent a further decline of livelihoods and nutrition among the poorest," Vercken said.

"Rising criminality and a return to kidnapping illustrate the precariousness of the situation and this deters foreign investment and much needed job
creation."

The agency said it faces a funding shortfall, with its two-year operation launched in September 2005, which requires US$103 million.