The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has removed food aid for 9,558 families in Gaza since the beginning of the year, while adding only 5,430 new families to the programme.
UNRWA's Director of Operations in Gaza Robert Turner has said that, "The Agency continuously aims to improve the efficiency of the poor families' aid programme. Therefore, the agency has conducted a comprehensive assessment of families who should benefit from emergency food aid last year and the results will be applied in 2013."
Turner explained during a meeting with journalists on Wednesday that the assessment's results were immediately applied during the first distribution cycle for this year.
According to Turner, "5,430 new families were added to the list of food aid beneficiaries and the food ration has been increased for 4002 families." However, "the results showed that 9558 families" previously receiving food aid "should be moved to the non-poor category, and thus became ineligible for food aid." Furthermore, "1723 families will receive aid rations under the category of absolute poverty and not within the category of extreme poverty which earns double coupons and double rations." The agency delayed the application of the new results to those families who would be receiving less or no aid out of respect for the holy month of Ramadan.
Turner pointed out that the results of the assessment will be announced to families during the current month in three batches: "The concerned families will be asked through SMS system to go to the office of relief and social services in their home areas to receive a letter that describes to them the change in their status as well as the complaint mechanism," noting that "all families have the right to file a complaint."
Turner continued: "UNRWA will address the families' complaints within 15 days from the date of receiving the notice. In the case that their complaints are accepted, the families will be able to receive the designated aid ration before the end of 2013."
Turner stated that families can still file their complaints after the 15 days deadline but UNRWA cannot guarantee that the complaint's decision will be applied retroactively during the distribution cycle from October to December. He stressed that any family that provides incorrect information at any stage during the complaint process will be excluded entirely from the food aid programme.
Turner pointed out that the process "does not aim to reduce or cut down services. It is the daily work of UNRWA which includes surveys of poverty," also noting that, "UNRWA aid has increased since the month of April for those who deserve it."
He revealed that UNRWA is scheduled to receive a new grant soon and will be able to buy food aid that will be distributed during the next session. However that will be at the expense of the school feeding program that annually costs UNRWA US$5 million.
Turner stated that, "The Agency works according to priorities. If we do not make priorities we would reduce the food aid proportion to everyone, especially under the current regional circumstances with the Syrian refugees who consume most of the Agency's support."
Turner is meeting in Jerusalem today with a number of institutions and individuals from Sweden, the United States, Norway and Turkey to discuss the mechanism to lift the blockade that has been imposed on Gaza and to request aid from donor countries.