Food Insecurity in Palestine
For nearly 80 years, Palestine has faced a complex humanitarian crisis connected to both internal and external political conflict that has caused unrest, instability and the loss of many lives. The exacerbation of the already dire situation — especially in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip — has led to economic instability, the loss of homes, restricted trade and access to essential resources and high unemployment rates, all of which have resulted in rising poverty rates. Currently, achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 regarding food security is the greatest challenge, giving rise to initiatives that focus on fighting food insecurity in Palestine. 

Food Insecurity in Palestine in Numbers

As it stands, 33.6% of the population (about 1.8 million people) are moderately or severely food-insecure. However, this national average does not highlight the significant differences within the country, with 24% of the 1.8 million people residing on the West Bank and 75% in the Gaza Strip. 

An overwhelming 51% of food-insecure people are children, while 49% are adults and 1% are elderly. An important fact to note is that 76% of food-insecure people are refugees, while 24% are non-refugees.

The Main Causes 

While several factors are contributing to food insecurity in Palestine, here are some of the primary causes:

  • Prolonged conflict
  • Economic stagnation
  • Restriction on trade and access to resources
  • High unemployment rate
  • High poverty rate

After decades of turbulence and violence, there are, fortunately, several organizations dedicated to fighting food insecurity in Palestine. Here is some information about them.

Action Against Hunger

Founded in 2002, Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization taking action against the causes and effects of hunger. Currently, it is aiding Palestinian families by supporting small businesses as well as promoting economic empowerment for women and young people. This is primarily achieved through providing food, money and mental health services, whilst also improving access to clean water, good hygiene and safe sanitation. In 2022, the organization was able to help 525,314 people – 519,000 people were reached by the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Programs and 6,000 people’s lives were improved due to the Food Security and Livelihoods Programs. 

SKT Welfare

SKT Welfare, which provides urgent aid and sustainable relief to millions of disadvantaged people around the world, has been aiding Gaza in Palestine since the conflict in Gaza erupted in 2014. The Muslim charity is fighting food insecurity in Palestine through hand-delivering food packages to families in need. Each food parcel provides a family with enough food for an entire month and contains basmati rice, groats, red lentils, brown lentils, cooking oil, white bean, salt, salsa, jam, sugar; dates, olive oil, tea, feta cheese and soap. The majority of the food distributions are carried out in Khuza’a, a beautiful Palestinian community that the surrounding conflict has unfortunately hit very hard. 

Muslim Hands

Originating in Nottingham, Muslim Hands is another Muslim international aid organization that has been running since 1993 and helping Palestine since 2007. It provides food, medical care and education to families and over the past 10 years, has raised more than £1 million for children in Gaza and reached 2,500 orphans in the region. Additionally, last year Muslim Hands provided Qurbani (the religious sacrifice of an animal during the Eid Al Adha) that fed nearly 315 Palestinian families. Also addressing the root of poverty in the region, Muslim Hands helped create 25 sustainable jobs and its agricultural production helped 100 families. 

World Food Program USA

An American organization dedicated to tackling global hunger, World Food Program USA (WFP) has been fighting food insecurity in Palestine by providing life-saving food assistance to the most vulnerable and food-insecure non-refugee Palestinians. The organization places a large focus on starting projects that, in time, offer people some financial stability during turbulent times. For example, WFP carries out a range of resilience-building activities, such as vegetable farms, greenhouses, poultry and sheep, alongside technical and vocational training for young people and people with disabilities. In turn, these activities not only provide food sources, but they also generate an income for several people.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

Finally, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is also fighting food insecurity in Palestine during a crucial time of need. The UNRWA zakat program provides both food and money to Palestinian refugees, helping them get a meal on the table. In this time of crisis, access to not only food but also psychological and medical care and support are urgently needed and provided by UNRWA. 

For as long as the conflict is prevalent in Palestine, hopefully, the innocent people affected continue to receive the help they so desperately need, and in turn, over time, the poverty rates will decrease.

– Sheherazade Al Shahry
Photo: Flickr

Diseases Impacting IndiaIn 2023, India became the most populous nation in the world, with the fifth-largest GDP and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world to boot. However, on the other side of this economic prosperity is the growing income inequality within the population. While 64 new Indian billionaires emerged between 2020 and 2022, India also continues to house the most number of people living in poverty, with almost 230 million people living below the poverty line. Many Indians living in chronic poverty are vulnerable to a wide range of diseases impacting India, especially because the cost of health care is practically prohibitive for the Indian poor.

Waterborne Diseases

A significant amount of surface water in India is polluted and unsafe to use. Unfortunately, the unclean water serves as a breeding ground for several waterborne diseases. Approximately 70% of surface water in India is dangerous to drink, including major river channels. Every year, waterborne diseases incur up to $600 million in economic costs in India.

Between 2011 and 2020, India recorded a total of 565 cholera outbreaks, with contaminated water and poor sanitation representing the chief causative factors. The poor hygiene and water conditions of India are also directly related to one of the leading causes of child mortality in the country, which is diarrhea. Around 13% of all deaths of children under the age of 5 are due to diarrheal diseases, making it the third biggest cause of death for children in the aforementioned age group.

Several years earlier in 2014, the government of India recognized the severity of India’s water conditions and launched the Namami Gange project. With a total budget of more than $4 billion, Namami Gange focused on constructing sewage treatment facilities and river-front development in the River Ganges. In 2022, the United Nations (U.N.) recognized the project as one of the Top 10 World Restoration Flagships for restoring over 900 miles of river length so far.

Tuberculosis (TB)

In 2021, India alone accounted for 28% of all TB cases worldwide, and roughly 500,000 Indians died from TB. Moreover, the global rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis is heavily affecting India as well, with 23% of new cases in India having resistance to some kind of drugs.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced his goal to eliminate TB in India by 2025. In addition to this goal, USAID has been providing TB-related aid to India since 1998 and assigned a total budget of $15 million on addressing TB in India in 2022.

Noncommunicable Diseases Impacting India

Between 1990 and 2016, the proportion of NCD-related deaths drastically increased from 37.9% to 61.8%. Cardiovascular diseases have become the most common and deadly NCD in India, along with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), cancer and diabetes.

Long-term day-to-day habits and routines of individuals can cause various NCDs. Smoking, drinking, unhealthy diet and high blood pressure are some of the most common risk factors for NCDs, and many Indians are prone to them. For instance, India is the third biggest producer of tobacco in the world, and the nation itself consumes nearly half of the tobacco production.

NCDs are also closely associated with poverty in India. More than 35% of all Indians do not have any form of health insurance coverage and people usually pay their medical expenses out-of-pocket. A staggering amount of 55 million Indians fell into poverty because of medical expenses in a single year.

In an effort to combat the impact of NCDs on Indians in poverty, the Indian government launched the Ayushman Bharat program back in 2018, a nationwide health protection scheme that aims to provide public health insurance to low-income Indians for free. In 2020, the program received an estimated $1 billion in funding.

The Good News

While India faces pressing issues that demand intervention aimed at ensuring the protection of its citizens from diseases impacting India, ongoing efforts present a reason to hope for a better future. The Indian government is making progress in mitigating major health hazards in the country, while also improving the accessibility of health care for individuals living in poverty.

– Junoh Seo
Photo: Unsplash

Health care Services in IndiaMedical poverty exists in India due to a variety of factors. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, “the poor people in the poorer states in India pay significantly more to avail hospitalization in public health centers than those in the developed states.” As a result, there are many organizations fighting to help as many people as possible access health care services in India.

Rural Health Care Foundation

Founded in 2009, the Rural Health Care Foundation (RHCF) works to ensure that marginalized and poor communities in rural and urban areas have access to quality primary health care. The Rural Health Care Foundation mainly targets West Bengal. Across West Bengal, the Rural Health Care Foundation has over 20 clinics that have treated over 22 lakh patients. The Rural Health Care Foundation supplies their patients with “affordable medical consultations along with a week’s supply of free medication.”

The Helan Centre is one of the 20 centers founded by the RHCF. On December 30, 2017, the Helan Centre opened its doors in the Hooghly district. A variety of services are provided at the Helan Centre such as dentistry and optometry. This center is open six days a week for patients between 9 am and 5 pm. More than 37,000 patients have been seen and treated.

Foundation for Mother and Child Health

Foundation for Mother and Child Health is a grassroots organization that focuses on malnutrition and maternal health. It provides information sessions to inform marginalized families, especially mothers and pregnant women about developing healthy nutrition habits to prevent anemia and maternal mortality.

The organization mainly targets poor communities in Mumbai, assisting more than 60,000 low-income families in the city. In addition to this, birth weights have increased to 2.7kg from 1.5kg. Plus, through a few interventions, breastfeeding rates have increased by 70%. Notably, more than 900 lactating and pregnant women have greatly benefited from the various counseling and education session programs provided by Foundation for Mother and Child.

Doctors for You

Created in 2007, Doctors for You is an organization made up of doctors and medical students as well as those with a passion to see everyone in India get free access to health care services. There are many critical areas of focus for this humanitarian organization. Supplying medical care to marginalized areas during emergency situations is one way Doctors for You is providing access to necessary medical services.

Delhi is one of many cities hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to help those living in Delhi receive proper treatment, Doctors for You assisted in operating a COVID-19 facility. It consisted of 100 beds in Shehnai Banquet Hall. Doctors for You also ran a facility that consisted of two intensive care units and 150 beds as well as two outpatient departments.

Final Thoughts

Rural Health Care Foundation, Foundation for Mother and Child Health and Doctors for You are just three organizations of many that help marginalized families access health care services in India. These organizations potentially saved a lot of lives, especially the lives of children and newborn babies. Groups like these want every person living in India to have a better and brighter future, and that starts with access to health care. Without proper access to health care, the cycle of poverty and malnutrition will never end in India. These organizations do a tremendous job looking out for poor communities that are often overlooked.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

premature hysterectomies in IndiaThe stigma surrounding menstrual periods continues to plague India. Due to the frequent lack of sex education and conversation about periods, many Indian girls grossly lack education about their cycles.  Local period taboos and social media moral police trolls widely shame girls about their menstruation. In fact, period taboo is leading to premature hysterectomies in India.

These period taboos significantly impact poorer women living in rural areas including Bend and  Sangli. These women migrate to the more affluent western “sugar belt” districts to work for six months as cutters in the sugar cane fields.  Cane cutting contractors hesitate to employ women who menstruate because they assume that they will miss a day or two a month due to their periods.

Because sugar cane cutting is frequently a family’s primary source of income in rural India, thousands of menstruating women have been electing to have hysterectomies, which are irreversible surgeries, to eliminate the “problem” of their period.

Indian Period Taboos

Menstruating women are frequently banned from religious, social and work environments during their cycles.  Indian society considers periods impure and girls who have their periods dirty.  Uneducated parents rarely prepare their daughters for their menstrual cycles, so when they arrive, fear and anxiety plague young women. Due to unsanitary lavatories and lack of access to sanitary products, 23 million Indian girls drop out of school after they get their periods. They also fear mocking from classmates for staining.

What is a Hysterectomy?

A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure that results in the removal of a woman’s uterus and, in some cases, her ovaries and fallopian tubes. In doing so, a woman loses the ability to become pregnant, will not menstruate and may experience a reduction in hormone production.  After undergoing a premature hysterectomy, many women must undergo hormone therapy to stay healthy and prevent further health complications.

Premature Hysterectomies in Rural India

In rural India many women feel as if they must eliminate their menstrual cycles entirely in order to work. Furthermore, due to the lack of education on the subject of menstrual cycles, doctors at private hospitals easily persuade women to undergo the expensive procedure in order to continue working as cane cutters.  A large percentage of those women are in their 20s and 30s, far younger than the age when experts usually recommend hysterectomies.

Roli Srivastava, author of the column. “Pushed into Hysterectomies” in The Hindu, describes a distinct pattern:  Private hospital doctors coerce poor illiterate women into a premature hysterectomy. These women, who present with easily treatable symptoms such as white discharge, an irregular period or bad cramps willingly elect hysterectomies so they won’t miss work. As she also explains, “their willingness to undergo the procedure stems from the fear of cancer (which doctors convince them of) to the belief that their uteruses are of no use once they have had children.”

A “Moneymaking Racket”

According to Srivastava, hysterectomies are a “moneymaking racket” in India for private hospitals. When illiterate rural women with menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding go to clinics, the doctors don’t give them options.  They don’t even let them consult their families, and they are not told the cause of their problems or informed about the procedure.  They often don’t know if their ovaries have been removed as well as their uterus.  The operation is expensive, and many rural clients’ insurance does not cover the operation.  Families need to go to moneylenders to get the funds for the operation.  In Maharashtra, the average cost of a hysterectomy is $598 and the average daily wage for a female worker is $2.98.

The Numbers

According to Indian Media, over a three-year period, more than 4,500 young women had premature hysterectomies in the Beed district alone. And the numbers are going up.  A 2018 government survey found that 22,000 women between 18 and 49 had hysterectomies. In one study that interviewed 200 women, 69% were unsure or uninformed of the nature of whether their procedure had removed their whole uterus or just their ovaries.

The Solution

Education about menstruation and personal hygiene is the key lever to reducing period taboo and premature hysterectomies in India. Education will enable more women to exert their rights in many other areas as well such as choosing contraceptives and making their own informed health decisions.  Photographer Niraj Gera, writes, “It is time we realize that menstruation is just a biological process and the secrecy surrounding it must go. It is important to normalize menstruation and destroy taboos around this natural process” As a strong advocate for period education he concludes, “Talking is all it takes to begin a transformation and it’s time we did it.”

– Opal Vitharana
Photo: Wikimedia Commons