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Palestinian Territory

The life of Mariam

Mother of 11, Mariam Ahmed has lost secure access to water and food over the past four years of the conflict. Along with an increasing share of vulnerable Palestinians, she represents a priority target for ECHO’s assistance.

Mariam with the youngest of her 11 children. A few sheep produce enough milk and yogurt for all.

Mariam with the youngest of her 11 children. A few sheep produce enough milk and yogurt for all.
Photo : EC/ECHO/Denis Van Praet

Tubas, northern West Bank. Mariam sits outside with her nine-month baby Sundus, and looks on to the dry hills around her, most of them planted with olive trees. We are in the deep, rural heart of the Palestinian territory. The world can bet on a rebirth of the peace process, Mariam’s concern is about today and how she will manage to feed her 11 children. “Bread, rice and lentils make up our daily meals. We eat chicken and fresh vegetables only when we can afford it”, she says. And this is not often.

The Ahmed family belongs to a new class of Palestinians plunged into poverty by four years of Intifada. Previously an agricultural worker earning his living on Israeli farms, Mariam’s husband has been unemployed since 2001. He now spends most of his days looking for sporadic, part-time and low-paid jobs inside the West Bank.

Their house could not be more basic. Four walls of concrete under a sheet metal roof. No bathroom or toilets. A simple sink and a bottle of gas for the kitchen. “When night comes, we split into the two rooms and sleep on mattresses”, explains Mariam. Eight of her children go to school. “We could not pay for their annual school fees”. Local workers unions and religious charities did it for them. Despite all the hardship, social networks luckily still provide an important safety net for poor households.

Thanks to a cistern built in front of their house, the Ahmed family can now store enough water for their drinking and domestic needs.

Thanks to a cistern built in front of their house, the Ahmed family can now store enough water for their drinking and domestic needs.
Photo : EC/ECHO/Denis Van Praet

The other good news is that the Ahmed family can now enjoy clean water for their drinking and domestic needs. A year ago, the Spanish aid agency Acción Contra el Hambre built a 60-cubic metre cistern. It was filled up for free twice since. “Before, we used to buy water and store it in plastic containers”. They were also given two sheep, primarily to produce milk and yogurt for the kids. Another two animals were born since. “Soon, we hope we can sell their meat and buy chicken, which is cheaper for us to eat”.

Along with dozens of other beneficiaries, Mariam was also trained on water chlorination and how to prevent water-born diseases. The project is funded by ECHO, whose top priority in the Palestinian territory since 2000 has been to support the most vulnerable of all.

The living standards of the population in the West Bank and Gaza have dramatically deteriorated, as a direct consequence of the conflict and its spiral of violence. After four years of crisis and restrictions on the movement of people and goods, average Palestinian incomes have declined by more than one third and one-quarter of the workforce is unemployed.

Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people (47 to 60 percent of the Palestinians) now live below the poverty line on less than $2 (€1.54) per day. Coping mechanisms have been strained to the limit. Families are forced to reduce spending on food, affecting both the quantity and quality of the food consumed, as well as on healthcare.

This has had debilitating effects, and the elderly and young are particularly vulnerable. Mariam’s children spend two hours daily walking to school and back home. What if they don’t eat breakfast?

Sébastien Carliez
ECHO Regional Information Officer - Amman