As life in Gaza slowly starts to return to some sense of ‘normalcy’, people are trying to come to terms with the losses they have experienced and the immense scale of destruction. Shortly after the announcement of the ceasefire most Palestinians were just relieved the incessant bombing had stopped. With nine days into the ceasefire, more and more inhabitants of the tiny coastal enclave begin to wonder whether there will ever be a solution which addresses the underlying causes of the conflict. It is clear to everyone that life in Gaza will not be like it was before under the dreadful conditions of the blockade, with lives even more devastated than before. It is almost impossible for children and adults to make sense of the violence they have witnessed and experienced. Gaza’s streets, homes and the UNRWA compound are full of people sharing their sadness and fears, checking on each other’s well-being and trying to comfort each other through the shock of what they have been through. Over the years, people in Gaza have developed various coping mechanisms as a normal response to a very abnormal situation, but this most recent bout of violence risks depleting the resources of families and communities to cope with such an extreme situation.
The impacts of the recent conflict are experienced equally by UNRWA staff, who continue to support Palestinians throughout the war until now, without being able to freely visit relatives and friends in the rest of Palestine, including the West Bank and East-Jerusalem. Like all Palestinians, they have suffered incredible personal losses and experienced displacement and constant fear. At the same time, they had to cope with the needs and the fears of the people they serve, and with inadequate resources at the height of displacement.
Mohammed Zaqout and his wife Amal Zaqout are two of the many UNRWA education staff who worked as shelter managers under incredible pressure at the front line of the emergency operation. During the war in his shelter in Gaza City, Mr. Zaqout was distressed as he could not offer space and mattresses to all displaced running to the shelters in desperate need of protection. All surrounding shelters were equally full.
With continued emergency operations and resumption of all core programs, including education, the Agency is providing support to staff to build positive ways of coping with their experiences and prepare them to deal with the massive post-war challenges. UNRWA has deployed counselors to provide support to UNRWA staff and will also be providing information sessions and workshops on topics such as stress management and how to talk with children about what happened, which has been identified as a priority by staff. Managers are also provided with guidance on how to support their teams, and information about positive coping mechanisms will be available on the internal staff portal.
“During the conflict UNRWA staff went through the same experiences as other people in Gaza”, said Dr. Iyad Zaqout, Manager of the UNRWA Community Mental Health Program, who is responsible for extending support to staff. “Their commitment to continue supporting Palestinians in Gaza even during this difficult time shows their dedication, but they also have the same needs as everyone else for support to cope with what they have experienced. It is one of our priorities to make sure that those who are normally providing assistance are also able to receive assistance themselves”.
His team from the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme continues to report to shelters every day. Over the course of the war and until now they have provided over 21,000 sessions encompassing mental health awareness and psychosocial support sessions to over 170,500 parents. Recreational and animation activities were provided to over 204,000 children. The Programme also coordinated and supervised the implementation of almost 5,000 sessions by partners for over 24,000displaced adults and over 130,000 children.
“Whilst staff was there to draw smiles on the faces of children in the middle of the most horrific destruction, our mission is now to recognize staff efforts and provide support across all departments”, said Dr. Iyad Zaqout.
- On 2 and 3 September, UNRWA delivered 41 truckloads of non food items as well as 35 truckloads of food to shelters. The food support to shelters is provided in cooperation with WFP.
- UNRWA, in cooperation with partners and donors, continued daily water distributions to the shelters. On 3 September, 342 cubic metres of potable water were trucked, which is equivalent to some 5.9 litres of drinking water per person per day. In addition to drinking water, 639 cubic metres of non-potable water were trucked by UNRWA, municipalities and contractors to the shelters. 126 cubic metres of non-potable water were trucked to former shelters for the cleaning of the school buildings in preparation for the next school year.
- Since the announcement of the ceasefire on 26 August, the IDP situation has been very fluid. The Water and Hygiene Campaign had to restart with committee formation in the consolidated shelters, as many displaced who were actively involved left. As of 3 September, there were 54 IDP committees (including at minimum two women, two men and four youth of which two girls and two boys) with overall 627 members. 116 awareness sessions were held among 3,997 IDPs, focusing on cleanliness, usage of cleaning materials, best practices in water use, how to keep food from being contaminated and how to treat lice and scabies and avoid other diseases related to hygiene conditions. 418 persons were referred to medical focal points and 1,119 IDPs took part in cleaning campaigns.
- The hygiene campaign continued to focus on lice cases in shelters, referring cases to medical focal points and organising awareness sessions on how to use lice shampoo appropriately. In the first two days of the anti-lice campaign 3,597 cases were detected. Lice shampoo was distributed in the North, Middle, Rafah and Khan Younis, and will continue over the next week. 112 awareness raising sessions were done on the lice issue all over the Gaza Strip and 2,870 attended the sessions.
- UNRWA’s regular food distribution to a total caseload of over 830,000 beneficiaries continued. On 2nd and 3 September, food rations were provided to 7,989 families through UNRWA distribution centres. Distribution centres continue to remain open six days a week, with the exception of Friday when food commodities for the regular and the exceptional food distribution is moved to the food distribution centres for the following week.
- All 21 health centres were open. On 2 and 3 September, a total of 41,065 patients were served.
- On 2 and 3 September, a total of 588 tonnes of waste were removed from all of Gaza’s 8 camps.
- On 2 and 3 September, the 11 water wells in Jabalia Camp (6), Beach Camp (3), Khan Younis Camp (1) and Rafah (1) supplied 18,575 cubic meters of water.