The devastating 50-day conflict has forced the new academic year in the Gaza Strip to begin three weeks late – on 14 September – the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, underscoring the serious psychological trauma suffered by the Gazan children.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac emphasized that more than 500 children had died, over 3,350 suffered injuries and many others were secluded at home during the fighting.
“The resumption of classes is vitally important in the healing process to help children regain a sense of security, normalcy and stability in a safe and familiar environment,” stressed Mr. Boulierac.
On the ground, UNICEF is focused on a variety of areas, such as coordinating schools for some 50,000 children who were either displaced by the fighting or whose school had suffered heavy damage – preventing their attendance in neighbourhood institutions. Additionally, the agency is repairing and cleaning schools that were used to shelter displaced families.
“About 100 schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and one public school had been used as shelters during the bombing,” explained the UNICEF spokesperson.
UNICEF was also planning to rebuild 48 schools in 2014 and 60 schools in 2015. In total, 108 out of 132 government-run schools would be repaired – depending on the funding provided to UNICEF's Back to School campaign. The Children’s Fund will provide a total of 130, 000 children with school bags and 230,000 with school stationery and teaching aids as well as assist vulnerable priority families with uniforms and shoes.
To address the psychological trauma suffered by the children, UNICEF is also organizing a week of special recreational sessions for all schools, designed to allow trained staff to identify for specialized support referrals children who had been more seriously traumatized by the conflict.
The campaign underway works within a $16 million budget for 2014.
Answering a question on the exact number of children going back to schools, Mr. Boulierac affirmed that 525,000 students would return – 55,000 of whom were small children attending kindergarten. “UNICEF will help local authorities open 395 schools within the coming weeks and directly support 60,000 children,” he said.
According to Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “There are still more than 63,000 internally displaced people staying in 29 UNRWA schools in Gaza as a result of the 50-days crisis, but the numbers are fluid.” An estimated 50,000 other displaced people were living with host families.
Humanitarian partners on the ground report that in response to that displacement, more funds were urgently needed to finance a comprehensive support package to support host families, provide rental subsidies, repair minor damages and supply vouchers to purchase non-food items.
While 90 per cent of health facilities in Gaza were operational again – albeit with limited services on some, due to damage – challenges such as electricity shortages, essential medicines and medical supplies continue.
Meanwhile today, the Deputy Prime Minister of the State of Palestine, Mohammad Mustafa, and UN Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley, released the updated Gaza Crisis Appeal, which focuses on addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Gaza.
The 2014 Gaza Crisis Appeal requests $551 million in support of the vulnerable population of the Gaza Strip affected by the conflict. It focuses on displaced persons, the injured, the elderly, children, and women, as well as farmers and fishermen who have lost their livelihoods.
The Appeal includes the provision of food assistance and basic supplies; expanding access to health, water and education; and meeting the protection needs of the population, including psychosocial support. Assistance will be provided by the Government, UN agencies, and international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).