14 September 2009
Ramadin and Eizariyyeh, West Bank
The village of Ar Ramadin sits at the south-eastern tip of the West Bank, and is home to a close-knit Bedouin community of 385 families, all of whom are registered as refugees. Recent events have threatened the ability of this small, traditional community to provide for itself. A steep rise in food prices over the last two years has left many local people struggling to cope, while the construction of settlements and the Barrier has separated many of the villagers from their land. Most are unable to feed and tend their sheep, and to produce food and commodities such as wheat. Today, herding families such as the residents of Ramadin are among the most food insecure and nutritionally deficient refugee groups.
Ghada is a social worker with UNRWA here in Ramadin. She tells me that the village’s sheep, now increasingly depleted, are "like sons" to their owners, and traditionally serve as a marker of social standing. She also says that the culture of the people here is to roam in order to live, and that with the restrictions on movement and on herding forced by the settlements and the Barrier, the people are suffering from food insecurity combined with a new cultural poverty. A high level of intermarriage means that many people in the village have a disability, while a high fertility rate, ingrained in the local culture, ensures that many households are as large as 20. This makes it difficult for people to produce goods for themselves and their loved ones, and to preserve their way of life, explains Ghada.
The new distributions here in Ramadin and in the West Bank village of Eizariyyeh have been made possible by an unprecedented partnership between UNRWA and the World Food Programme (WFP). The new joint programme aims to address the problem of food insecurity among herding communities by combining the logistical capabilities of UNRWA with the WFP’s nutritional expertise. In Ramadin, all of the families here will receive food parcels thanks to the new initiative. Ghada explains that the residents of the village welcome the combined UNRWA-WFP effort, and are very much aware of the nutritional problems in their community.
The family headed by Ahmad Faheed Al-Zaqrna is among ten that have lost their land to the separation barrier. As Ahmad explains, this loss has led to severe food insecurity. Most people are required to apply for a permit to cross to their land, and rarely succeed. This year, just one local family obtained a permit, and were able to collect the wheat harvest. In the face of this difficulty, says Ahmad, many families survive on bread and tea. The children frequently go to school without breakfast, and rarely eat meat.
Ahmad welcomes the new WFP-UNRWA initiative as a necessary response to the problem of nutritional deficiency in this vulnerable community. However, he emphasises that the people of Ramadin are working to find lasting solutions to the long-term threat of local food insecurity.