By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, 19 January 2009 – UNICEF is moving swiftly to deliver supplies and support to children after a ceasefire was declared on Saturday following three weeks of conflict.
“It’s a hopeful day,” said UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Sigrid Kaag.
UNICEF will take part in the United Nations rapid emergency assessment team in Gaza, and will issue a flash appeal for extra financial help to meet immediate humanitarian needs in the coming days.
Meeting children’s urgent needs
“We’re hoping to get a first-hand assessment and confirmation of what we know or understand of the extent of the damage,” said Ms. Kaag. The aim of this assessment, she added, is “to make sure that what we have been planning is right and will meet the urgent needs of the children, but also takes a longer-term perspective.”
One of the top priorities will be to quickly repair damaged schools and community centres so that children have safe places in which to begin rebuilding their lives.
“It’s very much an immediate response to address the needs we can address now, because the infrastructure rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip will take much longer,” said Ms. Kaag. “But the needs of children of Gaza today, they just can’t wait.”
Prospects for peace
The Palestinian Ministry of Health estimates that 410 children were killed in the conflict and 1,855 were injured. Tens of thousands of families have been driven from their homes.
UNICEF will be working with partners to address the wider impact this conflict has had on all children in the region.
“We’ve found very exciting and supportive partnerships within the media,” said Ms. Kaag, “to build that future generation where there’s hope, where we have prospects for peace and mutual understanding and tolerance. It’s long-term, but today is a good a day as any to start that process.”