Briefing by UNICEF Special representative Lucia Elmi on the situation of children in the State of Palestine
We are extremely thankful that a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza strip came into effect at 2am this morning, because the human toll there has been huge. We also hope that a resolution to the ongoing violence, and causes of violence, in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is found as soon as possible.
From the very first day of the escalation in the Gaza Strip, the impact on children was so clear, when four children, siblings from the same family, were killed.
Over the past 11 days, at least 65 Palestinian children have been reported killed and another 540 have been reported injured. In Israel, two children were reported killed and 60 were reported injured.
Let us all remember that these are not just numbers. These are children: girls and boys, like any other child in the world, they had dreams and aspirations. Children killed were mostly in their own homes where they should be safe. They are no longer.
Their lives have been cut short, as have been their futures. The bombardment was so heavy that some children were under the rubble for hours before being pulled out. As the UN Secretary-General said in his address yesterday to the General Assembly, “if there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today”.
Allow me to share a personal account. Tala, a 29-years-old mother of a nine-month-old girl living in Gaza says:
“The previous wars are nothing in comparison to the one we are living through. I have never been as afraid, everything around us is so terrifying.”
As we speak, nearly 107,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety and at very short notice. Some with only the clothes on their backs. Some planned better and all they could grab was a run bag they kept ready just in case. Of those displaced, more than 9,000 families are taking refuge in 58 UNRWA schools across the Gaza strip, the rest are staying with family and friends.
Being a child in the Gaza Strip has always been extremely difficult, even before this escalation. For some children, this was the fourth conflict they lived through. No place is safe for children across the Gaza Strip.
Another mother, Rana, says:
“I am afraid we are getting used to this: the sounds of explosions, the killing and destruction. But I don't want to get used to all of that.”
This should not be “normal”, because it is far from normal.
Before the current wave of violence 1-in-3 children required mental health and psychosocial support. This number has undoubtedly increased markedly in the past few days.
Beyond this horrifying human toll, let me give you an overview of the impact this violence is having on basic civilian infrastructure providing critical life-saving services for children across the Gaza Strip. The damage has been colossal, this includes:
- At least 50 education facilities damaged.
- Twenty health facilities damaged.
Some 50% of the water network is damaged. Nearly 800,000 people do not have access to piped water, as groundwater wells and reservoirs, desalination and wastewater plants, water delivery networks and pumping stations, have all sustained significant damage, putting children at risk of contracting water-borne diseases.
UNICEF has been on the ground in the Gaza Strip for more than four decades. Together with other humanitarian partners, and from day 1 of this current crisis, we have been responding to the growing needs of children and families. Here are a few highlights of our response so far and more are planned:
- Essential medicines including saline solution, glucose, antibiotics, and ORS and other medical consumables have been provided. These supplies aim to support the continuity of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health services and for the treatment of the wounded.
- Water tanks and jerry cans to help families get water have been provided. UNICEF has also supported immediate repairs to the water supply system.
- Education and recreational kits and direct psychosocial support to children and families have been provided.
As for what is needed now, I would like to reiterate the following:
- A lasting cessation of hostilities by all parties. We are ecstatic that a ceasefire agreement was reached this morning. Long may it last. This will allow families to have much needed respite and allow for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance and personnel to the Gaza Strip.
- And, importantly, for the sake of all children and their future, it is time to reach a long-term peaceful solution to the seven-decade-long conflict. Any political solution that will be reached should not and cannot be “going back to as it was before” as “before” was unbearable and unsustainable for all children.
Let me leave you with Tala again, she says:
“The best feeling in the world is to be a mom. I am documenting every single move, the first words, the first tooth… Every detail. I want her to have a good life and be safe.
Since the beginning of the violence, I realized that the worst feeling is to be a mother during a war.”
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.