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


© Christian Aid / Chryssa Panoussiadou / Panos

Gaza is a very small place: just 360 square kilometres 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 Israeli bombardment, making the need for Gazans to harvest fresh produce even more vital.

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

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. People   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 things have changed. Now the 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 per cent even 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 a once fertile terrain reduced to wasteland, farms and greenhouses destroyed and ancient fruit trees uprooted. All that hard work wiped out in a matter of weeks.

The Agricultural Development Association surveyed 65 per cent of the farming population. It estimates that the bill for the damage to the agricultural and fishing sectors will exceed $100 million. Hundreds of thousands of animals used for livestock farming have been lost, and 4,000 fisherfolk are now unable to go out to sea due to the damage done to their boats.

As a result, more than 8,700 families have lost their means of putting food on the table and food prices at markets across Gaza have spiralled.

Our partners now work with farmers as a matter of urgency in order to rehabilitate their land, rebuild animal shelters, greenhouses and  agricultural roads and repair water and irrigation networks.

Recently, I spoke to a woman in Gaza whose family are farmers. They were forced to flee their home and have now been able to return, but the scenes of devastation across her neighbourhood are overwhelming. Their house and farm had been damaged and their crops and ancient olive trees torn down

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… 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, fisherfolk and their families, she added, ‘What can we do? We have to be positive, we are trying to see the glass half full.’

To help people like her, Israeli-imposed restrictions on access to Gaza should be lifted immediately, to allow in essential equipment and supplies so that people can rebuild their lives.

Madeleine McGivern is the Middle East programme officer at Christian Aid.

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