SOUTH HEBRON HILLS, WEST BANK, 12 February 2008 (IRIN) - Herders in the southern West Bank are facing hardship due to a drought this winter, which comes on top of previous troubles, including rising fodder prices and land access restrictions by the Israeli military, a new UN document said.
"The 2007-08 winter has seen a drastic drop in rainfall for the entire West Bank. The average rainfall has been 26 percent of the expected amount," the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report released at the end of January entitled Drought:The Latest Blow to Herding Livelihoods.
In the very affected south Hebron Hills, which received only 13 percent of expected rain, livestock nibbled at the barren land which normally in February would have stalks 10 cm high.
Meanwhile, the cost of fodder continues to rise, compounded by the need to buy water, which has become more expensive as tankers must travel longer distances to circumvent Israeli roadblocks.
Many herders have begun selling off their livestock to make ends meet, although the UN agencies and herders themselves are aware that this will ultimately mean no future income from herding.
According to OCHA and FAO the hardest hit are Bedouin farmers, like the Hadalin clan, made up mostly of refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. They now live in the southern West Bank.
"Last year I had 50 sheep, but this year I only have 30 and next year I'll only have 10 left," said Muhammed, a Hadalin shepherd in the south Hebron Hills. He had to sell sheep and goats to buy fodder and feed his family.
"In two years, I'll have nothing left at all, and then I don't know where food will come from. God is great," he told IRIN sitting on a dry hilltop.
Poverty is beginning to bite. OCHA said many herders now lived on bread and oil, only occasionally supplemented by vegetables, and without money to buy fuel for heating.
"These people will be dependant on the international community and reliant on aid. They will go from independence to dependency," commented a UN aid worker who was not authorised to speak to the press.
The herders said their grandparents had coping methods no longer feasible due to the changed political situation.
"My grandfather would never have gone into debt," said Aiyish, a refugee who has sold off a quarter of his livestock this year.
"If there was a drought in the years before 1948 they would move and go to Gaza or other areas to find grazing land. But now we can't," he said.
With the formation of Israel in 1948 Palestinians in the West Bank were no longer able to graze in the nascent Jewish state or travel through it to reach the Gaza Strip.
Between 1948 and 1967 the herders were able to enter Jordan, which annexed the West Bank. However, after the Israeli occupation in 1967, and the formation of a border between the eastern and western banks of the River Jordan, that route too was closed off.
"We just can't move any more," Aiyish said, with several other herders voicing their agreement.
One man said that now, even within the West Bank, grazing land is contracting.
"Israel declared grazing land nature reserves. We are blocked by [Israeli] settlements and military bases and checkpoints. We can't go north to the Jordan Valley because all the roads are blocked," the herder said, adding that some settlements sit on what was their farming land.
According to OCHA and FAO, 21 percent of West Bank grazing land was declared Israeli military zones and another 8 percent was deemed nature reserves.
Additionally, herders in many areas are in constant threat of house demolitions. In 2007, OCHA counted the demolition of 90 dwellings and 101 other buildings by the Israeli military, mainly on account of lacking permits.
"Now, the most important things in our lives are that we have fodder and a good education for our children," said Muhammed. As the family herding tradition may come to an end, only proper schooling will offer his offspring a viable future, he believed.