Three years after the most recent conflict began in Gaza – July 8 2014 – poor families are traumatised by the poor economic and social conditions they are forced to live in, says Islamic Relief following the publication of a new report on poverty in the Palestinian territory..
The new report, Poor Families in Focus, is based on a study carried out in partnership with local development associations, women’s groups and farmers’ co-operatives. Involving 3,342 families identified as living below the poverty line, the report identifies some of those who are most in need, and how best to work with them to help lift them out of poverty.
“The destruction and bloodshed caused by conflict have contributed significantly to psychological problems in Gaza,” says Muneeb Abu Ghazaleh, Islamic Relief’s country director in the territory. “But the constant pressure felt by poor families due to unemployment and poverty is also having a massive impact on people’s psychological health and family relationships.
“Children and mothers, in particular, bear the brunt of fathers’ psychological problems due to their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Many have lived through the destruction of their homes and businesses more than once.”
One of the people interviewed is Fadi, once the breadwinner of a family who is now suffering from deep depression. His wife is now taking care of him and their children. His ten-year-old son comes home from school, finishes his homework and then runs to the vegetable market to work for the rest of the day. He earns between 70p and £1.50 – enough just to buy bread for the family.
Forced into debt to meet basic needs
The report found that 92% of the households interviewed had been forced into debt just to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter and education, while 69% had no jobs. It also found that almost half of the people interviewed were suffering from psychological problems and chronic diseases, such as hypertension, asthma and heart disease.
Many of these chronic diseases are caused or exacerbated by dangerous and unhealthy living conditions. Almost half of the households interviewed live in ’bad’ or ’extremely bad’ housing conditions. This includes, for example, having a roof that doesn’t protect them from the rain, wind and hot sun, or one that contains asbestos.
Eighty-nine per cent of the households interviewed relied on water supplied by the public authorities that is often unfit for human consumption and heavily contaminated with salt. Many cannot afford safe drinking water that, for a family of five, costs £8 per month.
A choice between unsafe water and going without
“It’s often a case of drinking unsafe water or going without for days on end – and this creates enormous health problems,” explains Muneeb.
A quarter of the households interviewed had very poor sanitary facilities, with 274 dependent on cesspits outside their homes.
When asked to list their priorities in order to alleviate their poverty, 47.7% of those interviewed cited improved housing and 44.3% said activities to help them earn a living.
Islamic Relief is now working with this information to make sure it continues to reach the poorest of the poor and to fine tune its work addressing poverty in Gaza.
International community must challenge blockade
“Local organisations and even bigger international aid agencies like Islamic Relief can only do so much,” says Muneeb. “We need the international community to do more to challenge the blockade of Gaza.
“The international community collaborates on the Sustainable Development Goals to reduce poverty around the world, looking at indicators such as health, education, food, water and sanitation. But in Gaza we are going in the wrong direction for all of these areas.
“What kind of future are we creating for our children?”
“I would dearly love to sell my own son”
Atef lives with his wife and seven children in a damp-ridden 50m-square ‘house’ with a dilapidated ceiling and a kitchen that doubles up as a bathroom in Rafah City in the south of Gaza. Interviewers were shocked to hear him say how he would dearly love to sell his own son.
He lost his job as a builder due to spinal problems and cannot find a job as an electrician, even though he has the right skills.
His wife is ill with glandular problems for which she has to conduct monthly laboratory tests costing 1000 New Israeli Shekel (£220). With eyes full of tears, he explained: “I haven’t got a penny to pay for the taxi to the hospital.”
His older children cannot find work and he can’t afford the school fees for the younger ones.
With a voice full of pain he explained: “I thought that if I sell my youngest child to one of the rich families here I could afford the school fees for the other children.”
“This is what we see every day in Gaza,” continues Muneeb. “People who are full of courage and energy to work with dignity, but faced with every obstacle that you can think of and children who are not even given a basic chance in life.
“We owe it to our children to work to overcome this poverty at every single level.”
Find out more about our work in the Palestinian Territories here.