GAZA, 28 April 2009 - More than three months after the cessation of hostilities in Gaza, the Israeli blockade and inter-Palestinian tension are hampering recovery efforts.
"Although the conflict ended 100 days ago, children in Gaza continue to suffer, both physically and psychologically," said Patricia McPhillips, UNICEF Special Representative to the occupied Palestinian territory. "It is critical that supplies and materials needed for recovery and rehabilitation are allowed in."
Ten per cent of the population in Gaza remains without electricity and nine per cent with little access to safe water. UNRWA primary health clinics in the south are recording significantly higher prevalence of water and sanitation-related infectious diseases, including acute bloody diarrhea, over the same period last year. For many households, food, fuel and cash are in short supply. According to the latest figures, 65 essential drugs were out of stock at Gaza's Central Store.
Five children have died in unexploded ordnance-related incidents since the end of the 22-day conflict and at least 14 were injured in related violence.
The fighting took a particularly heavy toll on children's psychological wellbeing. A recent United Nations study reaffirmed that mental health, anxiety and stress are the main health problems in Gaza.
Working with partners, UNICEF is ramping up psychosocial support to children and young people, providing mine-risk education in schools and communities, supporting remedial education, and organizing vaccination campaigns.
To improve maternal, newborn and child health, UNICEF is also focusing on improving skills of health care providers and caregivers -particularly in relation to managing severe malnutrition, breastfeeding and early detection of childhood illnesses.
However, lack of access continues to hamper recovery efforts.
Gaza has been under a blockade for 22 months. In March, an average of 132 trucks entered Gaza every day, compared with 475 in May 2007, one month before the Hamas takeover.
Since the cessation of hostilities:
- Destroyed and damaged homes, schools and health facilities can not be reconstructed or repaired due to Israeli restrictions against cement imports.
- Damaged water and sanitation systems still lack repair materials.
- UNICEF educational supplies, including teacher training and early childhood development kits, as well as recreational material including music instruments, have not been allowed in.
Children have also been affected by internal Palestinian tensions. Of particular concern is a dispute since 22 March affecting medical referrals for urgent care not available in Gaza. According to the World Health Organisation, at least three patients have died while waiting to exit Gaza for medical treatment. UNICEF welcomed news on Monday of positive moves on the ground to resolve the crisis.
In addition, there have been reported incidents of children being trained or used by Palestinian militant groups. Children should not be used for political or military purposes.
"Children are the innocent victims of this conflict," McPhillips said. "All parties to the conflicts must put children's interests first."
Israel's military operation from 27 December to 18 January killed or injured one out of every 225 Gazans. Some 431 children were killed and 1,872 wounded, accounting for roughly a third of all casualties. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For further information, please contact:
Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, UNICEF Regional Office in Amman, +962-79-700-4567, email@example.com
Marixie Mercado, UNICEF occupied Palestinian territory, +972-547-787-604, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Mc Cormick, UNICEF Media, Tel: + 212 326 7452. E-mail: email@example.com