NEW YORK, USA, 27 July 2006 – While clashes between Israel and Hezbollah intensify in Lebanon, fighting continues on a second front in Gaza in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). And the crisis is taking a heavy toll on children.
“In July alone, there were 35 children killed in Gaza, which is one of the highest numbers for a month over the last six years,” says UNICEF Special Representative in oPt, Dan Rohrmann.
According to Mr. Rohrmann, 63 children have died so far this year – a 30 per cent increase of the total figure of 2005. Some 100 children have also been injured.
Children, he says, are living in a “climate of extraordinary insecurity and fear.”
“UNICEF at the moment is stepping up its activities in health, water and sanitation, education, child protection and adolescents,” says Mr. Rohrmann.
The agency is also ensuring that children have the necessary vaccines and that hospitals as well as health clinics have essential drugs and equipment.
“Children of all ages are afraid.” says UNICEF oPt Communication Officer Monica Awad. “They have nightmares. Parents in Gaza tell us that children won’t let go of their mothers. They are afraid to get out of the houses.”
The situation for civilians
The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland visited Gaza on Tuesday 25 July and Haifa in Israel on Wednesday 26 July to assess the damage and destruction caused by both Israeli forces and Hezbollah rockets.
Mr. Egeland said he was shocked by the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including Gaza's only power plant.
“This is a heart breaking experience,” said the UN’s top humanitarian official, who added there were “too many wounded children, too many civilian houses destroyed.”
Mr. Egeland described Israel's month-long military activities in Gaza as a "disproportionate use of force." However he again emphasized that all sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were guilty of violating humanitarian law.
Ms. Awad, who visited bombed areas in Nablus in the West Bank where clashes have also broke out, says the situation for civilians remains very difficult. Children and their families are confined to their homes without clean water or electricity.
Delivering the basics
Meanwhile UNICEF’s emergency efforts on the ground are focusing on health, nutrition, safe water and child protection and include:
“With the limelight of the international media having shifted to Lebanon, the Gaza humanitarian crisis is on the verge of being forgotten,” says Mr. Rohrmann. “But I can say that for the 800,000 children in Gaza the humanitarian crisis is not forgotten but indeed a hard reality.”