By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 11 January 2009 – As the conflict in the Gaza Strip escalates into deeper ground incursions, UNICEF is appealing for $16 million in new funding to provide families and children with emergency supplies.
"We have a fairly good idea of what are the needs, but we desperately need more resources, especially from UNICEF national committees and their donor partners," said Director of Emergency Operations Louis-Georges Arsenault.
UNICEF emergency supplies bound for Gaza have arrived in Jerusalem. Two charter flights from the organization's supply hub in Copenhagen landed last week; another is due Monday morning with emergency medical supplies, including equipment for specialized obstetrics care.
Meanwhile, UNICEF today managed to deliver 30,000 bottles of water from the West Bank to Gaza, where safe-water supplies are dangerously low. In addition, 500 family kits for water purification were delivered into Gaza from the Israeli port of Ashdod.
However, the logistics of distribution are formidable. There is only a three-hour window each day in which emergency help can get through.
UNICEF provided the Palestinian Red Crescent with 560 family water kits during the three-hour ceasefire on Thursday, drawing from supplies that were pre-positioned in Gaza. On Friday, the security situation prevented medical staff from reaching health facilities there.
"If we can negotiate more crossings [into Gaza] to be open, then we can accelerate our response. But we are operating right now in extreme conditions," said Mr. Arsenault.
"What we are aiming at is to ensure that the ceasefires are increased day by day. Not three hours – it's just not enough. And we want also to ensure that there is a durable peace agreement," he added.
Second wave of supplies
"The situation is changing from day to day," said UNICEF Emergency Logistics Specialist Jean Cedric-Muess. "We had, already, a lot of supplies in Gaza, but now we're going to send a second wave of supplies next week: more health kits, more water and sanitation kits, and education kits."
UNICEF is also gravely concerned about the mental health of children who now have endured more than two weeks of conflict. Teams are ready to be deployed to meet their psychosocial needs.
"You have a situation where there are no bomb shelters in Gaza, to speak of," said Mr. Arsenault. "The UN facilities were not built to suffer so much bombing, so there is just nowhere to go. The trauma of the children is not only for the coming days. It may be for a lifetime."