|Palestinians fill bottles with water from a public tap in Gaza, where water supplies are dangerously low.|
By Roshan Khadivi and Charbel Raji
AMMAN, Jordan, 11 January 2009 – As the conflict in the Gaza Strip continues in its third week, UNICEF teams are working to ensure that critical supplies are ready to reach women and children at risk.
Today, UNICEF managed to deliver 30,000 bottles of water and 500 family kits for water purification into Gaza, where safe-water supplies are dangerously low.
At the same time, however, aid agencies do not yet enjoy protection and safe access for their humanitarian operations.
UNICEF and its partners have highlighted the urgent needs of civilians in Gaza, including wheat flour, fuel and cooking gas. With the increasing number of displaced people in the territory, shelter and items such as blankets, mattresses, hygiene kits and tarpaulins are also needed.
“The grocery stores are all empty,” said Sajy, one of the UNICEF aid workers who have continued working under extremely difficult conditions in Gaza. “You cannot buy bread, you can’t buy milk, you can’t buy cheese. Bread is like gold,” he added.
UNICEF is in the process of sending emergency relief from its warehouses in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Zarka, Jordan. These supplies – including hygiene kits, water-purification tablets, education materials, collapsible water containers and recreation kits – are expected to be in position for delivery into Gaza in the next few days.
A key issue has been the protection of civilians, particularly children, since there is no safe space in Gaza and the borders are closed. UN emergency shelters there, housed mostly in schools and office buildings, are not constructed to withstand bombardment.
|Humanitarian aid bound for the Middle East – and ultimately Gaza – awaits transport at the UNICEF supply warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark.|
Over 800,000 children have been exposed to violence and insecurity since the beginning of this emergency. Many parents report that their children show signs of distress.
“They destroyed our house, and we ran out…. Our children were scared from the shelling,” said one parent.
“I’m seeing the psychological impact on children,” said Sajy. “One kid [I know] is not speaking. For the last five days he hasn’t spoken a word, after a huge explosion in his house.”
Due to a lack of electricity in 75 per cent of Gaza, many wells and sewage pumps are not functioning, and water quality is a concern even for those who have access. Shortages of drinking water, along with sewage overflows in residential areas, pose an imminent public health danger.
There are reports that in Gaza City, some people are now in the streets with jerry cans looking for drinking water.
Another growing concern is the increasing risk of unexploded ordnance and other explosive hazards, which endanger not only civilians – particularly children – but also humanitarian and rescue workers.
During the three-hour ceasefires that took place on 7 and 8 January in Gaza, UNICEF was able to provide some aid in the form of health kits for clinics and family water kits for displaced people. The supplies were pre-positioned in Gaza; it was impossible for UNICEF to bring in more supplies due to violence on the ground.
While the United Nations has welcomed the brief ceasefires, emergency assistance programmes need to operate around the clock.
|© UNICEF OPT/2008/El Baba|
|Palestinian families leave their hometown of Rafah near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt.|
Once safe humanitarian access is restored in Gaza, five UNICEF-supported psychosocial teams will conduct emergency home and hospital visits to assist children and families affected by the conflict. In partnership with other UN agencies and non-governmental partners, UNICEF will also provide supplies to health facilities, assess emergency education and child-protection needs, and support the water and sanitation sector.
“It is only with an end to the conflict that children’s rights can be fully respected,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “In the interim, safe spaces and unimpeded humanitarian access must be established in Gaza urgently to ensure that children have access to regular life-saving supplies and support.”
Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.
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