CAIRO: As Israel and Hamas remained locked in a 16-day-old Gaza war on Sunday – ignoring international calls for a ceasefire – the World Food Program (WFP) launched Operation Lifeline Gaza, a three-month initiative to respond to growing hunger needs in the war-torn city.
“This is a global appeal; and as Gandhi once said: To a hungry man, a piece of bread is a face of God. And right now, there’s no more vulnerable moment to men, women, families, and individuals in Gaza than not having food, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the WFP, told a press conference in Cairo on Saturday.
She announced that the WFP would begin Sunday Operation Lifeline Gaza, a global appeal to ramp up the distribution of food to people caught in the conflict in the occupied Palestinian territory. The three-month operation aims to secure some 6,402 tons of foodstuffs to citizens of Gaza at an estimated budget of $20 million.
Operation Lifeline Gaza, also referred to as “Get Food to Gaza, aims to provide an estimated 1,340 tons of cereals such as rice and wheat flour, 1,150 tons of beans or tuna for the needed protein component, 1,340 tons of oil, 968 tons of sugar, and 164 tons of salt during the upcoming three months – to be delivered into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing near Al-Arish.
According to the ministry, as part of the immediate response to the crisis, Egyptian manufacturers producing fortified date biscuits and bars have agreed to increase their production starting Sunday.
“We have enough in the warehouses to meet the needs for at least a couple of weeks . so we need more contributions to be able to handle this three-month operation, Sheeran said, adding that contributions can be made to the WFP, Egyptian Red Crescent, and the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA).
During her visit to Cairo, Sheeran met with First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, the head of the Egyptian Red Crescent, and Egypt’s Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid. The Egyptian government, which gathered a large number of Egyptian companies in Cairo at the launch of the new initiative, pledged to facilitate Operation Lifeline Gaza by offering assistance to companies that can provide food to WFP.
“As of Sunday, the WFP in cooperation with the Egyptian Red Crescent will augment food assistance given to people in Gaza by increasing quantity of foodstuffs as well as developing means of food distribution in light of the Israeli offensive that crippled means of life in Gaza, Rachid said.
He explained that the WFP held two meetings with the ministry, a number of Egyptian food producers and the Egyptian Chamber of Food Industries to discuss means of taking part in the initiative.
“Egyptian food producers will take part by providing foodstuffs that are difficult to prepare in absence of electricity, fuel, and sometimes even houses. They will also provide food commodities for children, the minister said.
Some companies offered to provide these commodities at no charge and others will provide them at zero profit margins, he added.
“Egyptian food manufacturing factories will at once begin increasing deliveries of these products as well as intensify their production capacity because some of these products are not [entirely] available on shelves.
The WFP said Friday it was becoming increasingly difficult to find food in Gaza, with little available in markets, bakeries running out of wheat flour, flour mills running out of grain and many people too frightened to leave their homes.
“The situation in Gaza is dire with at least 80 percent of the people needing urgent food assistance, Sheeran said Friday during a visit to Rafah, on the Egyptian border with Gaza, to assess the crisis.
By press time on Sunday, death toll in Gaza in the two-week Israeli offensive had reached 885, more than a third of them children, and thousands of injuries, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said.
Some 365,000 people need food aid in Gaza, equivalent to nearly two-thirds of the population not including refugees, said WFP officials.
“We are in the business of feeding hungry people in difficult situations – in earthquake zones, droughts, or after tsunamis – but Gaza presents one of the toughest challenges we have faced because access to the hungry is so limited, Sheeran stated
“We are proposing an immediate, innovative solution to hunger in an unusually challenging situation, where many people are suffering from a complete breakdown in access to food and clean water, she added.
“Even in the limited windows of opportunity when we can distribute food we have to remember that many people lack the means to cook and prepare meals for their families.
She reiterated Saturday her appeal to the international community by saying, “We feel the needs are getting more and more severe every day, and basically the entire population in Gaza is suffering from food insecurity.
She explained that new and innovative strategies are needed to ensure that women and children in Gaza are getting not only enough food but also food that can be consumed in the absence of electricity, water and cooking oil.
“We need highly innovative food items that are very nutritious. . This date bar can be used in disasters even though it was not originally designed for that purpose. If a child has one of this [date bar], s/he will get essential amount of vitamins and minerals, she told reporters in Cairo. “And these are locally manufactured here.
“We need to send specific kinds of food to Gaza because if we send regular food it might not be useful to those stranded in the streets with no access to refrigerators, storage, or heating stoves, Rachid clarified. “We need to send in food that doesn’t require cooking or storage and is also highly nutritious with vitamins and minerals.
“The problem is not only with food transportation but also with quality of food that is needed in war and disaster zones, and the [WFP] has a long experience in dealing with this kind of situation both inside and outside Gaza.
The WFP said it had distributed food to more than 75,000 people during pauses in fighting in the past two weeks, taking food to hospitals and flour to the few bakeries still operating. The WFP said its ability to deliver food aid was hampered by the dangerous conditions. It has 130 trucks carrying about 4,000 tons of food ready to be delivered into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing, but it had been too dangerous to deliver most of it.
Sheeran has sent senior WFP officials to Jerusalem to urge the Israeli authorities to free up access for aid, the WFP said in a statement issued by its Rome headquarters.
While WFP has food stocks sufficient to feed almost 360,000 people for the next three weeks, the heavy fighting has limited the possibility of wide-scale distributions. Many truck drivers and fork lift truck operators have been unwilling to work due to the insecurity and the civilian population is often too frightened to go to food distribution points, the statement reads.
“It’s critical that WFP and all humanitarian workers have free and unfettered access to the people of Gaza at this difficult time, Sheeran said, adding that food supplies were waiting in warehouses to be supplied to the hungry in Gaza.
“With families too afraid to come to these warehouses, that’s the distribution [effort] needed to make sure they receive nutrients they need, she pointed out. “We have been trying to get food more evenly distributed throughout Gaza but some areas are more difficult to reach than others.
Besides distributing food to families, the WFP is also supplying hospitals with food needed for doctors and nurses who are unable to leave their hospitals. The WFP has so far given out 6,000 meals to hospitals.
The WFP said it has raised its Gaza appeal budget to $141 million due to higher logistical costs and the rising price of foodstuffs.