2006 has been one of the worst years for children. Across oPt, the conflict and closures, the withholding of resources and suspension in funding to the Palestinian Authority, as well as the strike by some public sector workers, have collectively blocked the fulfillment of children's rights. This year, whether it is health care and education, protection from violence and abuse, or opportunities to play without fear – the rights of Palestinian children have been violated on an unprecedented scale. The killing of three young brothers in Gaza City on 11 December 2006 and injuring of another four child bystanders have shocked the Palestinian community. It highlights the serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with often tragic consequences for civilians, including children.
The events of 2006 have impacted children in ways that will take years to unravel. Sonic booms, incursions and shelling created a context of extreme violence, stress and fear for children and their families. The summer, rather than being a time of recreation and play, turned out to be one without recreational opportunities as well as one with fear sine it was among the most lethal summers ever, with 40 child deaths in July alone. At this point in time, more than twice as many children died due to the conflict compared with 2005 – 70 per cent of these deaths were in Gaza.
For the first time ever, children saw their schools and health clinics closed throughout much of the autumn due to a rolling strike. With a massive swell in unemployment, and two-thirds of the population already living below the poverty threshold, humanitarian conditions have been pushed to the brink of collapse. The very fabric of Palestinian society is under extreme duress.
UNICEF support is needed more than ever to help prevent a further deterioration in children’s well-being.
UNICEF bases its programmes on our Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies, working in our areas of expertise and comparative advantage. UNICEF will scale up projects where there is need, focusing mostly in education, health, nutrition, child protection, adolescent development, water and sanitation.
2. ISSUES FOR CHILDREN
Health and Nutrition
Essential drugs and disposables are in short supply and some 20 per cent of essential drugs are below security level and will be at zero stock by mid-January 2007. In the West Bank, movement and access restrictions, fuel shortages, and vehicle breakdowns hamper health care delivery in isolated areas. Over the last two months, health service delivery has been further compromised by a rolling strike among Ministry of Health (MoH) workers, who haven’t received full salaries in over nine months. Across the West Bank, all services are now affected, including emergency care and immunization. Child nutritional status is seriously challenged by household poverty and restrictions to the movement of food products. Malnutrition is a problem of concern and anemia remains a public health challenge.
Water and sanitation
The incursions and shelling have disrupted already fragile water and sanitation systems. At the height of the crisis this November, up to half the population of Beit Hanoun was without water and electricity. Many areas are not served by water networks at all, and even fewer communities have access to chlorination plants. Between 30 and 50 per cent of water is lost to leakage. Per capita consumption of drinking water in the West Bank and Gaza are below international standard for the protection of public health.
More than 70 per cent of the population is not connected to the sewerage network, and most households have old drainage pipes, septic tanks and toilets. Cesspits are a popular way of disposing wastewater, but they often leak or overflow. Treatment facilities for wastewater are largely unavailable or inadequate. Between 70 and 80 per cent of domestic wastewater is discharged into the environment untreated, and less than 1 per cent of sewerage is properly treated.
Closures, roadblocks, and random checkpoints continued to challenge student and teacher access to schools. There are few child-friendly learning environments and opportunities for sports and recreation. Many schools still lack more participatory and engaging teaching patterns and lack quality teaching aids. Poverty remains a major obstacle, however. Even though the PA has cut school fees from US$11 to US$5, many families, notably those with more than one child, are struggling to meet the costs of sending their children to school.
A strike among teachers called on 2 September following months of unpaid salaries was suspended on 5 November 2006, contingent upon a resumption of payments. Some 750,000 children who had been shut out of their classrooms have now returned to their schools, and will make up for lost school days by going in on their weekends and during holidays. This will further affect quality of learning, teacher training and the general tension in schools. Levels of violence in schools continue to rise. Outside classrooms, students have few opportunities for sports and recreation, especially as costs for extra-curricular activities are borne by parents.
The siege on Beit Hanoun this November struck directly at children, killing more than 19 children between 1 and 17 November. Most children had already spent the whole summer confined at home due to ongoing fighting in Gaza, and many more children across oPt live in households whose breadwinners haven’t received salaries in more than eight months. Children throughout Gaza, and in Beit Hanoun especially, show acute signs of stress, including intense fear, nightmares and withdrawal. For the first time, psychosocial professionals have observed bedwetting among teenagers. In the West Bank, requests for assistance from UNICEF-supported psychosocial teams continue to increase.
The tragedy of the 3 children killed and 4 children injured in Gaza on 11 December comes in the wake of one of the most difficult and stressful periods in Gaza’s recent history – a time when children have been denied their rights to health, education and protection. In December the UN humanitarian agencies working in the area stated in the 2007 CAP launch their alarm over the impact of ongoing violence on civilians and civilian infrastructure. The hostilities have resulted in a sharp decline in the situation facing Gaza’s 1.4 million people– more than half of them children.
The conflict has had a particularly damaging impact on adolescents, who comprise a large, vulnerable and volatile group. Those most directly exposed to violence have the greatest need for productive learning and recreational opportunities. Adolescents, who are two or three levels below their normal grade often end up dropping out of school and joining the unskilled labour market. Worsening socio-economic conditions point to the likelihood that the numbers of adolescents vulnerable to abuse, violence, and exploitation will increase. At least two-thirds of adolescents in the West Bank and Gaza do not have safe spaces for recreation. Most of the 300 youth clubs across oPt lack funding, and are poorly managed and equipped. Programmes offered are usually limited to simple sporting activities without proper equipment.