Gaza: UN says over 370,000 Palestinian children in need of 'psycho-social first aid'
“The impact is has truly been vast, both at a very physical level, in terms of casualties, injuries, the infrastructure that's been damaged, but also importantly, emotionally and psychologically in terms of the destabilizing impact that not knowing, not truly feeling like there is anywhere safe place to go in Gaza,” Pernilla Ironside, Chief of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Gaza field office told a press conference today at UN Headquarters.
“Children need to have that sense of security,” she added.
“All they want is a sense of safety,” continued Ms. Ironside, referring to the children of Gaza where nearly 280,000 people fled overnight in 83 UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in search of safety. “They basically just want it to stop. 'Khalas.'”
She noted that at least nine more Palestinian children were killed as of this morning in the last 48 hours out of a total of 469 since 8 July. In addition, more than 3,000 Palestinian children have been injured. Her office, UNICEF Palestine, reported that 219 schools had been damaged by airstrikes and shelling, 22 completely destroyed.
“There isn't a single family in Gaza who hasn't experienced personally death, injury, the loss of their home, extensive damage, displacement,” she said.
UNICEF has 50 psychologists and counsellors in Gaza reaching out to children directly impacted by loss. They have reached 3,000, but the needs are “staggering” as parents are also in a state of trauma, Ms. Ironside said, noting that today 373,000 Palestinian children need “immediate psycho-social first aid.”
Another priority for UNICEF in Gaza is a “massive back-to-school campaign”, as August 24 is the start date for children to go back to school.
Ms. Ironside outlined a few of the myriad challenges – from dealing with the severe school shortages as a result of damage or because they are being used as shelters, to equipping affected teachers with coping skills to be able to provide nurturing environment for traumatized children.
As an illustration of the magnitude of damaged caused, she said it could take 18 years to rebuild the 17,000 housing units damaged during the current conflict.
As renewed violence earlier this week signalled the end of the latest Gaza ceasefire, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave disappointment at the return to hostilities and urged the parties to “reach an immediate understanding on a durable ceasefire which also addresses the underlying issues.”
Meanwhile, the head of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory, Ramesh Rajasingham, also called today for an immediate cease-fire, and emphasized that Gaza civilians cannot keep moving between their homes and shelters each time conflict renews.
In the long run, he said, a permanent halt in violence stemming from a durable cease-fire is crucial to mitigating the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip.