There are roughly 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip and they consume 500 tons of flour a day. For years, they have relied on exports from Russia and Ukraine but the outbreak of Moscow’s special military operation has disrupted these supplies sending prices to unprecedented heights.
Wheat has long been a staple of Palestinian cuisine, with 500 tons of flour being consumed every day in the Gaza Strip alone.
The outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, however, and the subsequent shortage of wheat has led to Gazans tightening their belts.
Running out of Bread
Adham Al-Basiouny, the official spokesman for the Hamas-run Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, says the enclave’s small quantities of wheat will barely last weeks.
The Gaza Strip does produce its own wheat – the region has 12,000 dunams (approximately 3,000 acres) of fields producing 4,300 tons annually. But that only answers the needs of three to four percent of the 2.3 million inhabitants. Put another way, if the locals consume 500 tons a day, each year the region produces enough to last only nine days.
Unable to rely on their own production, Gazans have turned to Russia and Ukraine, both of which account for nearly a third of global grain production. The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine have not only disrupted much-needed wheat supplies – it has also put a rocket under prices, squeezing the already impoverished Gazans, who have been living for years under dire economic conditions, further.
Reports suggest that in recent weeks the Gaza Strip has seen a price spike of 20 percent on wheat and its derivatives. In an area, where nearly 60 percent live below poverty line, that rise has not gone unnoticed.
Al-Basiouny says he doesn’t believe the crisis will reach the levels of unrest and clashes which existed in Egypt back in the Seventies. But he acknowledges the situation is acute and that his government needs to do “everything in its power” to cater for the needs of the population.
Taking Serious Measures?
One of the measures Hamas – that has been running the enclave since 2007 – has already taken is to approach other wheat-producing countries, such as Canada and Australia, to make good the shortfall. Their prices, however, turned out to be higher than those demanded by Russia and Ukraine so the government, whose annual budget is normally no greater than $1 billion, is still struggling to find grain.
Hamas has also threatened local millers and bakery owners with fines and punishments if they are caught manipulating prices.
However, that move has run into certain obstacles, not least because those local merchants who have been importing wheat from the West at inflated prices are reluctant to operate at a loss. They, therefore, are angry with the government for forcing them to work for what they consider to be peanuts.
Once again, Hamas needs to find a solution, and Al-Basiouny says the organisation has no choice but to lobby support from rich donors.
“Right now, we are communicating with a number of donor countries such as Qatar, who would be provide us with financial assistance to buy flour,” he says. “We also get flour from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that provides bread to Palestinian refugees in the enclave, who account for about 85 percent of all residents.”
So far, reliance on what UNRWA provides has kept things stable. But with more and more donors to the organisation cutting back on spending, a situation where Gazans are starving for bread could just be a matter of time.