UNICEF Deputy Executive Director visits programmes supporting Palestinian children
By Catherine Weibel
EAST JERUSALEM, 12 December 2013 – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt recently concluded a four-day visit to the State of Palestine to view and discuss the situation of children with partners from government, civil society and the international community, including the United Nations system, and observe UNICEF-supported programmes.
“I am impressed by the resilience of Palestinian children,” said Ms. Brandt after visiting the West Bank and Gaza. “I greatly admire their commitment to study despite all the obstacles they face.”
On Sunday, Ms. Brandt participated in the kick-off of a polio immunization campaign in the State of Palestine by giving drops of oral vaccine to a baby at the al-Daraj clinic in Gaza City.
“It is impressive to see the very high levels of vaccination and turnout in Gaza. However, it is essential to step up the efforts here and in other countries of the region to avoid a regional public health crisis,” she said.
UNICEF is supporting Palestinian Ministry of Health partners to immunize up to 630,000 children aged 5 and younger against polio. The campaign is part of the largest ever immunization effort in the Middle East, which aims to vaccinate some 23 million children in seven countries against the highly infectious virus. In October, a polio outbreak was confirmed in the strife-riven Syrian Arab Republic.
In meetings held between Ms. Brandt, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, she recognized notable achievements made for children, such as the fact that the regular national immunization programme is now fully funded and managed by the Palestinian government. Senior officials, in turn, thanked UNICEF for the partnership that led to this and other milestones, as well as the support that UNICEF is now providing for the polio immunization campaign, which was recognized in a statement of appreciation issued by the Palestinian Council of Ministers.
Ms. Brandt also visited a desalination unit built by UNICEF in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp with Japanese funding support. It produces 50 cubic metres of drinking water per hour from the polluted ground water, providing safe drinking water to 15,000 refugees.
Thirteen desalination units have been built in Gaza by UNICEF so far, providing drinking water to 95,000 people. Some 90–95 per cent of Gaza’s aquifer is polluted, making the water that comes through the tap saline and undrinkable.
Ms. Brandt also attended a psychosocial support session for children in Gaza. UNICEF supports 16 psychosocial teams for children and their parents, helping children process the traumas they have experienced, recover and strengthen their resilience. She said that the children’s commitment to heal and their enthusiasm gave her hope.
During her visit to the West Bank, Ms. Brandt met with children and families living in a remote herding community on the edge of Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills. The family explained how difficult it was to access food and services, and the difficulties they face to send their children to a distant school.
“I greatly admire these children and their families,” said Ms. Brandt, adding that it was crucial to help all children access their rights, including the right to education, protection and health.
In Hebron’s Old City, she saw how students have to cross up to four checkpoints to reach school and talked with one of UNICEF’s partners, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The presence of their volunteers, who provide a ‘protective presence’ to school children, deters settler harassment and makes crossing checkpoints easier.
In Hebron, she also saw how UNICEF helps Palestinian adolescents participate in their communities by producing short videos highlighting social issues. “It is heartwarming to see these young people engage in their society. They are building a better future,” she concluded.