7 August 2012
Bethlehem, West Bank

In Bethlehem’s crowded Dheisheh refugee camp, space is at a premium. Families are cramped in small shelters, with only narrow alleyways separating them. With little room for families to grow, the thought of growing food has always been out of the question.

That was the case until Karama (“dignity” in Arabic) led a pilot project to bring agriculture into the refugee camp. Starting with 11 families in Dheisheh, the organisation installed greenhouses on the rooftops of their shelters and provided seedlings and farming tools. The families took care of the rest.

“It was a great feeling to plant these vegetables, and to see how they grow – day in and day out”, said Hajar Hamdan, one of the women who participated in the project. In addition to a water tank and gardening materials, Hajar benefited from training in proper care for vegetables.

Urban agriculture feeds refugee camps

“This is a modest attempt to help refugees overcome their difficult living conditions”, said Loay Abed al-Ghafar, the director of Karama. “We hope that this project thrives, and includes more families who might transfer their rooftops into miniature plantations.”

Working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Karama launched the greenhouse initiative to help residents of Dheisheh camp achieve greater independence. With limited access to agricultural lands, 40 per cent of Palestine refugees in the West Bank are classified as “food-insecure” or vulnerable to food insecurity. By providing the tools for refugees to grow their own food in the camp, this urban agriculture initiative allows them to rely less on aid to feed their families.

And for Hajar, the benefits for her family are more than economic. “I look forward to eating fresh and organically-grown vegetables very soon!”