NEW YORK, USA, 16 January 2009 – After 20 days of military operations in the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation there has deteriorated to new levels of desperation.
An estimated half-million Gazans are now without running water. Food and electricity are also in short supply. Bombing and shelling – which has already killed more than 1,100 people, including more than 350 children – continues.
UNICEF has delivered water, water-purification tablets and water canisters to the Palestinian Red Crescent for distribution. More supplies are ready to be distributed when it is safe to do so. Relief efforts and basic repairs to the water and sanitation infrastructure are significantly hampered by the ongoing violence.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is currently operating and supplying 49 shelters in Gaza, where some 45,000 people are living. While drinking water has reached all but one of the shelters, lack of access to clean water poses a serious health threat throughout the country. In several communities, raw sewage runs in the street.
‘No place is suitable for children’
Nine-year-old Amal Younis Diab Zayed’s family found refuge at a school in Al Shatee camp, northern Gaza. They share a room with 11 other families, totalling 61 people altogether.
“We came here because there is no water and electricity and our houses were destroyed,” she said. “Only yesterday, I was able to bathe [for the first time] since the beginning of the shelling.”
The UNICEF compound has also become a shelter – in particular for Ibtisam, a UNICEF Education Officer, and her nine-year-old son.
“No place in Gaza is safe, no place is suitable for children,” said Ibtisam. “I was scared about my child. I have to rescue my child.”
School on hold, life interrupted
In her professional capacity, Ibtisam also expressed concern about the longer-term impact of the crisis on Gaza’s children. The fighting has delayed the start of the school year, now postponed until February.
“These children will not be ready to start the second semester or to do the exam for the first semester,” said Ibtisam.
UNICEF is now preparing to furnish schools with replacement materials following the serious damage to many school buildings.