Food Vouchers in Gaza: bringing relief and feeding minds

Sanyora, 35, is a divorced single mother, living with her six children and her brother at her parents’ home in Beit Lahia, north Gaza. Divorce in Gaza comes at a steep price. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to ask for a divorce without the support of my father. He gave away almost all of his savings earned as a fisherman to cede my rights and financially compensate my husband.” Divorced women are frowned upon by society, suffer from stigma and are often discriminated against in the workplace.

Sanyora dropped out of school when she was 11 because her family was too poor to afford education for all of their seven children. Now, as a single mother without any qualifications or work experience, finding a job is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The unemployment rate in Gaza reached a record high of 46.6 percent in 2017 and 50 percent among women.

Since her divorce, Sanyora has remained entirely dependent on external assistance and has enlisted in multiple national social assistance programmes. She receives food, cash and medical support, and relies on a share of the slim income her brother makes working as a casual labourer in construction. But this is not enough. “I have accumulated too many debts that I need to repay each month. My parents’ house was too small to host my large family when I left my husband. We had to borrow 5000 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) – the equivalent of 1250 euros - from relatives to build an extra room.”

Sanyora used to receive in-kind food from WFP; she would collect her entitlements, including 200 kilograms (kg) of wheat flour, 16 kg of pulses, 8 litres of oil and 3 kg of salt at one of the warehouses managed by the Ministry of Social Development, WFP’s implementing partner. Her brother would come along to help her carry and transport the heavy bags home and she would buy other food items on credit from a few grocery stores, such as vegetables and rice, to be able to meet her children’s needs. To date, her food debts have grown to reach 3000 NIS (750 euros). “The rations were simply just not enough and I was penniless. I used the cash assistance that I receive from the national social transfer scheme to repay my longstanding dues. I had no choice but to take out additional loans to avoid my children sleeping with an empty stomach." Sanyora had fallen into a debt spiral which she couldn’t the see the end of.

However, in December 2016 WFP began offering Sanyora the choice to collect her food in local shops through an electronic food voucher, thanks to the support from the European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department. “It was a gift from God. All the expensive food items that I bought on credit were now free. I now spend much less money on complementary food.”

The electronic voucher is credited with funds each week and used as a debit card. It gives Sanyora the freedom to purchase a wide range of nutritious food, including fresh local produce at her convenience in 85 different participating shops. Sanyora also started to save on transportation costs as three shops were located within walking distance from her house.

Sanyora now receives approximately 70 euros on her voucher each month. She was particularly thrilled to no longer line up in long crowded queues at the food warehouse, where she sometimes waited for two hours. “My children are less sick and have become stronger which helps them focus better at school,” she proudly emphasised. “The WFP nutrition awareness sessions taught me to choose the right products and quantities and prepare nutritious meals.” In 2017, with EU funding, WFP has trained more than 11 400 people, including 6400 women, on best cooking and hygiene practices.

Food vouchers have been essential for people like Sanyora who have exhausted all their resources in trying to cope with a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

With the support of the EU, WFP provides essential food voucher assistance to 90 000 food-insecure Gazans like Sanyora living below the national deep poverty line of less than 2.6 euros per person per day. The voucher assistance also stimulates the Palestinian economy and recovery of Gaza, as local retail shops are used for purchasing and distributing locally-produced or processed food commodities. Since 2011, WFP has injected more than 62 million euros in the Gazan economy using this transfer mechanism.