UN report shows nearly half of Palestinians now suffer from malnutrition

 Nearly half (around 46 per cent) of households in Gaza and the West Bank are malnourished, according to a UN report on the impact of conflict and the global boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The draft report, jointly produced by the UN's World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, was quoted by a number of news services last night. It paints a bleak picture of the plight of ordinary families, saying that the situation is most grim in Gaza, where four out of five families have reduced their spending - including on food - in the first quarter of last year alone. While the report says traditionally strong ties among Palestinian families tend to reduce the possibility of acute household hunger, it warns that after years of shortages, and the loss of PA salaries because of the boycott, there are now "growing concerns about the sustainability of Palestinians' resilience". Although humanitarian aid helps to contain the problem, the report points out that some action taken by families to continue to feed themselves - including the sale of land, jewellery and other assets - will have an "irreversible impact on livelihoods". It also points out that limitations to PA budget support, the private sector and job programmes because of the boycott are likely to exacerbate Palestinians' dependency on humanitarian assistance and postpone sustainable improvement." The report says that Palestinian families have been caught between rises in food prices - partly because of interrupted supplies through closures - and rapidly falling incomes. This has led to changes to diet by many to ensure enough to eat. These include reductions in consumption of fruits, sweets, olive oil, and - normally a staple in Gaza - fish. The report is the latest of a series detailing deepening Palestinian poverty as a result of both closures blocking exports from Gaza and the international and Israeli boycott of the Palestinian Authority. A 2004 survey of Palestinian households also showed a "slow but steady" growth in malnutrition - as measured by reduced growth, vitamin deficiencies, anaemia and other indicators - among a minority of the population. The 2004 survey found "stunting" rates of abnormal height-to-body ratio at just under 10 per cent. In spite of such reports, both Israel and the US have indicated that they will maintain the boycott after the planned Fatah Hamas coalition cabinet takes office, unless it clearly commits itself to recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and adherence to previous agreements with Israel.

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