NEW YORK, USA, 17 March 2009 – The recent Gaza conflict left about 1,000 Palestinian civilians dead and many more injured. Children, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population, have born the brunt of the conflict and its aftermath. Approximately a third of those killed or injured were children, and many others lost caregivers and siblings.
The violence ended on 18 January. Since then, children and their families have suffered from shortages of food, shelter and basic commodities – and from the widespread destruction of homes, schools, health facilities, shops, mosques and play areas.
A difficult environment
“The physical environment in Gaza is unbearable in so many different respects,” says John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip since 2006.
Mr. Ging points out the effect of “shortages of very basic supplies – and then, of course, the psychological effects in terms of there being no perspectives for kids growing up. They are living in a very oppressive, depressing and difficult environment.
“So when they look and try to contemplate their future, their experience is not giving them any basis of hope,” he adds. “It’s devastating, it’s unbearable and, sadly, it’s getting worse.”
Schools as shelters
Sir John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, recently visited Gaza and was shocked to see a school being used as a shelter. He also observed the tragedy of what children who were sheltered in that school depicted when they were given paper and pencils to draw.
“They were drawing rockets and bombs and tanks and all that,” he says. “Which is no doubt a necessary part of their cathartic experience, but it is also depressing to see that’s what children are drawing and are obsessed by.”
Dr. Eyad Rajab El Sarraj is an internationally recognized Palestinian psychiatrist, researcher and human rights advocate from Gaza whose work documenting the effects of war and violence on children there is well known. “Layer after layer of trauma has left indefinite damage on the psyche of the children,” says Dr. El Sarraj, “to the extent that from one generation to the other, we grow up to become more violent and more desperate.”
Discussion on impact of the crisis
The impact of this crisis on schools, students and education personnel is substantial. How do children in Gaza see their futures? What kind of challenges does the crisis in Gaza pose for agencies trying to deliver humanitarian relief and safety to the civilian population – and to children, in particular? What needs to happen in order to open up the Gaza Strip to deliver assistance to the civilian population that needs it most?
Click here (Real player) to listen to a UNICEF Radio podcast discussion on the crisis in Gaza, featuring these guests:
Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency; and Dr. Eyad Rajab El Sarraj, founder and Medical Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.