The recent hostilities in Gaza may be over but the continuing Israeli blockade and inter-Palestinian tensions are hampering recovery efforts and having a particularly negative effect on the situation of children, the United Nations warned today.
“Although the conflict ended 100 days ago, children in Gaza continue to suffer, both physically and psychologically,” said Patricia McPhillips, Special Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to the occupied Palestinian territory. “It is critical that supplies and materials needed for recovery and rehabilitation are allowed in.”
The three-week Israeli offensive which began on 27 December, with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups, killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and wounded some 5,300. According to UNICEF, roughly one-third of all casualties were children.
The agency, in a news release issued today in Gaza, noted that the fighting took a particularly heavy toll on children’s psychological well-being, with a recent UN study reaffirming that mental health, anxiety and stress are the main health problems in Gaza.
UNICEF and its partners are boosting psychosocial support to children and young people, providing mine-risk education in schools and communities, supporting remedial education, and organizing vaccination campaigns. It is also focusing on improving skills of health care providers and caregivers to improve maternal, newborn and child health.
More than three months after hostilities ended, 10 per cent of Gaza’s population remains without electricity and 9 per cent with little access to safe water, UNICEF said, adding that primary health clinics in the south are recording significantly higher prevalence of water and sanitation-related infectious diseases, including acute bloody diarrhoea, over the same period last year.
In addition, food, fuel and cash are in short supply, and 65 essential drugs were out of stock at Gaza’s Central Store, according to the agency.
UNICEF also noted that five children have died in unexploded ordnance-related incidents since the end of the conflict and at least 14 were injured in related violence.
A main impediment to recovery efforts continues to be lack of access. An average of 132 trucks entered Gaza daily in March, compared with 475 in May 2007. Among the items that have not been allowed in since the conflict ended are UNICEF educational supplies, including teacher training and early childhood development kits, as well as recreational material including music instruments.
Children have also been affected by internal Palestinian tensions, added UNICEF, noting in particular a dispute since 22 March affecting medical referrals for urgent care not available in Gaza.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least three patients have died while waiting to exit Gaza for medical treatment. UNICEF welcomed news on Monday of positive moves on the ground to resolve the crisis.
There have also been reported incidents of children being trained or used by Palestinian militant groups, according to UNICEF, which stressed that children should not be used for political or military purposes.
“Children are the innocent victims of this conflict,” Ms. McPhillips said. “All parties to the conflicts must put children’s interests first.”
In a related development, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced yesterday that it has raised $4.1 million for the Children of Gaza campaign launched in Syria in January.
The funds will help alleviate the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and address the needs of children in particular. This includes the construction of the Aleppo preparatory school in Beit Lahia, one of the areas most affected by the military operation, and the repair of 370 refugee houses demolished during the violence.
“While Gaza is no longer on the daily news, the humanitarian needs remain very high,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd stated. “UNRWA and its partners will ensure that civilians affected by the conflict receive the assistance they need.”
The campaign was initiated on the heels of a meeting in Istanbul in January of the First Ladies of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Qatar and Pakistan, who were leading the effort to unify the region in fundraising efforts for humanitarian relief for Palestinians in Gaza.