Friday, April 3, 2009

Access to buffer zone key to agricultural recovery

IRIN, April 2, 2009 - Gaza’s battered agricultural sector has the capacity to recover but only if there is access to the buffer zone, and only if Gaza’s commercial crossings are fully opened, according to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on Gaza.

FAO says the area inside the buffer zone along the northern and eastern borders with Israel contains nearly a third of Gaza’s arable land, but it has been inaccessible to farmers, residents and UN agencies since 27 December 2008 (when Israel launched a 23-day assault on Gaza in retaliation for continued Hamas rocket-fire from Gaza into Israel).

The width of the buffer zone is 0.5-1km along the eastern border and 1.8-2km along the northern border, according to FAO. The buffer zone extends about 55km along the length of Strip from northwest of Beit Lahiya to southeast of Rafah, but the area is not clearly marked.

“In different areas there is a certain ambiguity regarding the exact border between Israel and the Strip,” according to an Israeli military source, who added that the fence that delineated the Gaza Strip today did not necessarily reflect the final border that would be determined by the two sides in a final status agreement.

Severely affected

Gaza’s agricultural sector has been severely affected by the recent Israeli military operation: Cultivated land, livestock, poultry farms and agricultural infrastructure have been destroyed.

The use of weaponry and the movement of tanks and military bulldozers during the Israeli offensive destroyed 14.6% of Gaza’s total agricultural land, according to the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza.

Before 27 December there were about 16,997 hectares of agricultural land in Gaza, including about 1,214 hectares of greenhouses.

The Plan estimates direct agricultural losses caused by the operation at about US$181 million and $88 in indirect losses.

Buffer zone resources

The buffer zone contains rain-fed crops including wheat, barley, beans and various vegetables, as well as olives, almonds and citrus trees, according to Gaza-based Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) officer, Ahmed Sourani.

Most of Gaza’s animal production is concentrated in the zone, which also contains important infrastructure such as wells and roads, according to FAO....

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