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‘We have to be positive,’ say Gaza’s farmers

19 September 2014 - by Madeleine McGivern

Gaza is a very small place, just 139 square miles of land, facing out onto the Mediterranean Sea. With 1.8 million people living there and an Israeli blockade which prevents full use of the waters off the coast of Gaza, opportunities for farming and fishing are limited. But they do exist.

According to the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) food insecurity levels were already at 57 per cent before the recent violence, which makes the need for Gazans to harvest fresh produce even more vital.

On my last visit to Gaza in February I saw how farmers and fishermen, supported by Christian Aid’s local partner the Agricultural Development Association, were working hard to develop their livelihoods in order to feed their families and provide fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish for the local markets.

A doctor treats a young patient in Gaza

I was greatly encouraged by the rows of beehives, fields covered in greenhouses, animal shelters full of noisy goats, sheep and cows, fishing boats bobbing at the Gaza seaport and the people who told me that despite the challenges of the Israeli blockade, and the restrictions they faced, they were managing to find ways to make a living.

But now things have changed. Now their land and boats have been crushed and the vast majority of those resources reduced to rubble. In an area the size of the Isle of Wight, with an unemployment level of 40 percent before the recent conflict, the destruction of thousands of livelihoods will have a huge impact on the local economy and people’s ability to feed themselves.

With a ceasefire now in place the full scale of the damage and destruction is increasingly apparent. Images coming out of Gaza show once fertile land now reduced to wasteland, farms and greenhouses destroyed and ancient fruit trees uprooted.  All that hard work wiped out in a matter of weeks.

Christian Aid partner the Agricultural Development Association conducted a survey of 65 per cent of the farming population over recent weeks and estimates that the bill for the damage to the agricultural and fishing sectors will exceed US$100 million. Hundreds of thousands of animals used for livestock farming have been lost and 4,000 fishermen are now unable to go out to sea due to damage of their vessels. As a result, more than 8,700 families have lost their means of putting food on the table and prices for fresh produce at markets across Gaza have spiraled.

To assist the people of Gaza and the agricultural and fisheries sectors in their recoveries, and to prevent further ‘de-development’ of the Gazan economy, aid agencies such as Christian Aid desperately need Israeli imposed restrictions on access to Gaza to be lifted immediately to allow essential equipment and supplies in to aid rebuilding and recovery.

Our partners will now have to work with farmers as a matter of urgency to support them to rehabilitate their land, rebuild their animal shelters, greenhouses and  agricultural roads and repair the water and irrigation networks.  This work will take many years as the devastation is huge, all the time many more thousands of people will be reliant on food aid.

This morning I spoke to a woman in Gaza whose family are farmers. They were forced to flee their home but have now been able to return, but the scenes of devastation across her neighborhood are overwhelming. Their house and farm has been damaged and the crops and ancient olive trees destroyed. Despite this, it seems that the hope I saw in Gaza earlier this year has not been totally destroyed. “We were waiting for death in every moment, evacuating once a day. Now we are not hearing shelling anymore. I am happy”, she told me. 

Acknowledging that the ceasefire is only the very beginning of what will be an extended and costly recovery for Gaza’s farmers, fishermen and their families , she added, “What can we do? We have to be positive Madeleine, we are trying to see the glass half full.”

Madeleine McGivern is the Middle East Resilience Programme Officer at Christian Aid

To find out more about Christian Aid’s Gaza Crisis appeal or to donate please visit www.christianaid.org.uk

Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended:  this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.  Further details at http://actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk

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