Surveys: Palestinian Kids Face Malnutrition

ByABC News

J E R U S A L E M, Aug. 4, 2002 -- More than 245 Israeli and Palestinian children have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, but for the 1.5 million Palestinian children living in the West Bank and Gaza, there's another concern — skyrocketing rates of acute malnutrition.

Nearly half of all young Palestinian children are suffering from chronic malnutrition, as tight work restrictions and curfews create shortages of money and food, according to a UNICEF-backed survey by the Palestinian statistics bureau released Thursday.

"They become more liable for infection and diseases, and for [impaired] physiological development also," says Dr. Hala Hamdan, a physician who works in a makeshift Palestinian health clinic in Nablus.

Figures from a soon-to-be-released survey done in the Middle East by Johns Hopkins and Al-Quds universities are so alarming, doctors say an immediate response is required.

"It's a warning," says Dr. Gregg Greenough of Johns Hopkins. "It's a triggering event that something needs to be done."

Since the Palestinian uprising, also known as the intifada, began nearly two years ago, the percentage of acutely malnourished Palestinians in the West Bank has increased four times what it was, and in Gaza it is eight times higher, according to the Johns Hopkins/Al-Quds survey.

The UNICEF-backed survey showed a 23 percent rise in stunted growth and increases in other physiological problems of young children, according to Reuters.

Can’t Afford Food

Closures and curfews on the West Bank and Gaza have devastated the Palestinian economy. People simply can't afford to buy the kinds of food that would keep them healthy.

"Like meat, chicken, fish, some of the higher protein foods that children need," Greenough said.

Before the intifada, officials estimate that over 125,000 Palestinians worked legally in Israel, bringing home millions of dollars in wages. Because of ongoing suicide bombings, the work permits for many were taken away.

Israel was clearly concerned about the Johns Hopkins/Al-Quds study and recently agreed to grant up to 12,000 work permits to Palestinians.

But with the severity of malnutrition in the region, much more outside help will be needed, doctors say.

ABCNEWS' Martha Raddatz in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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