Credits Falha at her local shop — one of 135 participating in WFP’s Cash-Based Transfer programme, across the West Bank. Photo: WFP/ Elias Halabi
Published on October 2, 2020

UN partners provide a lifeline for older people in Palestine

The World Food Programme works with UNICEF and ILO to ensure people living below the deep poverty line can survive


Growing old in Jericho is challenging.

“I used to have a large number of sheep and walk them far for grazing,” says Falha. “I cannot do that anymore because of my poor health. I need to buy medications every 14 days and pay 50 shekels [US$15] because the medications are not always available at the Ministry of Health clinic”.

Aged 65, Falha rarely ventures out of her home for anything other than food or medicine.

WFP/Elias Halabi
Falha raised her grownup children alone after her husband died 20 years ago. Photo: WFP/Elias Halabi

Now, COVID-19 poses serious threat to West Bank residents, like her, who suffer conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Falha’s husband died 20 years ago, which left her having to raise their three children alone; she no longer works and employment opportunities are few and far between for Nadhira, Ghada, and Mohammad — all in their twenties.

WFP/Elias Halabi
Falha prepares salad to go with Mujaddarah, a traditional Palestinian dish made of iron-rich lentils, fibre-rich burghul and lots of onion. Photo: WFP/Elias Halabi

They each receive US$10.30 every month to buy the foods they need from accredited shops — the World Food Programme (WFP) supports social protection by providing electronic food vouchers to the most vulnerable non-refugee families in Palestine (refugees, in turn, are assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).

People living under the deep poverty line of US$3.7 per day are prioritized.

WFP/Elias Halabi
Photo: WFP/Elias Halabi

With financial support from the UN’s Joint Sustainable Development Goal FundWFP, along with UNICEF and the International Labour Organization (ILO), is working with the Palestinian Ministry of Social Development (MoSD)to enhance the social protection system so that it’s more inclusive and accessible to older people, particularly women.

Older people in Palestine, like Falha, tend to live on fixed low incomes, have limited transport options, and often experience difficulty meeting their basic nutritional needs — and just 8 per cent of Palestinians aged 65 and over are in receipt of a pension.

This makes older people especially vulnerable when unexpected life events or financial expenses occur, because they typically do not have sufficient savings and are unable to work to make up for losses.

WFP/Elias Halabi
Falha insists on taking care of the family home, getting up at dawn to beat the Jericho heat. Photo: WFP/Elias Halabi

Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation. While the existing Palestinian social protection system is among the most advanced in the region it is not sufficient to address the needs of the most vulnerable groups.

Older people and those with disabilities — who’ve suffered decades of trauma living under occupation — rely primarily on traditional systems with their families as the main source of care and support.

WFP/Elias Halabi
Cash assistance helps Falha choose the essentials she buys. Photo: WFP/Elias Halabi

Falha is enrolled in the national Cash Transfer Programme, managed by the MoSD. To help her meet some of her essential needs, the Ministry provides Falha cash assistance of 750 Israeli shekels (US$ 215) every three months. “This is too little money to cover my personal needs and the needs of a family of four adults,” says Falha. “I receive the money sometimes after long delays.

She adds: “The food voucher is helpful now more than ever because it ensures we have basic food such as dairy products, vegetable oil and rice.”

On a poignant note, she adds: “I wish life were more fair to me. I try to find pleasure in the smallest things. My children are the source of happiness. I wish them a better life than mine”.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Palestine