Children suffer with no end to violence in Gaza

By Jane O'Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 16 August 2006 – As the fragile ceasefire continues to hold in Lebanon, children in Gaza are facing unprecedented levels of violence. Seventy-four have been killed since January, and almost half of those deaths occurred last month. UNICEF says their plight is in danger of being forgotten.

“I was there 10 days ago and saw conditions that were shocking,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole. “The situation for children is desperate. They are suffering from the distress and trauma of the shelling of villages, the disruption of their schools.

“Clearly children are tremendously impacted by this situation, but Gaza has been forgotten because of the understandable focus on Lebanon,” added Mr. Toole.

Support for immunization

Children form about half the population of Gaza. Many are refugees or displaced by the fighting. Unemployment stands at 40 per cent, and inflation is rising rapidly. Basic services are being stretched to the limit and medical supplies are scarce.

At one clinic in the Al Daraj neighbourhood of Gaza City, doctors see an average of 500 patients a day. UNICEF has provided vital cold-chain storage equipment and vaccines.

“We are supporting immunization of all children,” said UNICEF’s Special Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, Dan Rohrmann. “What's going on at this clinic today is very important because this mother is bringing her child to get routine immunization. That is key because it will continue despite the fact that we have an emergency going on.”

‘More attention to the children’

UNICEF has also provided generators for health centres and $1.2 million for emergency drugs and other supplies to 400 clinics. Additional staff are being trained to monitor children’s nutrition and improve the care of newborns.

Some 1,200 water kits have been distributed in hard-hit areas and large tanks have been installed to provide water to neighbourhoods where supplies have been severed. UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness of the importance of hygiene.

“We need more attention to the children of Gaza,” said Mr. Toole. “We need more access and we need more assistance.”